Andrew York Presents Arguments to Texas Supreme Court

December 7, 2023

Last week, Barron, Adler, Clough & Oddo, PLLC attorney Andrew York presented an oral argument to the Texas Supreme Court in the Texas Department of Transportation v. Self case. This was York’s first argument to the Texas Supreme Court. The underlying case involves a dispute about whether TxDOT has sovereign immunity under the Texas Tort of Claims Act after it directed that trees be removed from private property in Montague County, northwest of Dallas. 

Briefing and other filings in the Supreme Court can be accessed HERE. A recording of the oral argument can be accessed HERE.

What is the Texas Tort of Claims Act?

The Texas Tort of Claims Act is a state statute that waives sovereign immunity in certain claims when a governmental actor causes property damage or personal injury.

In this case, a contractor and third-party subcontractors hired by TxDOT removed trees outside TxDOT’s right-of-way as part of a roadway maintenance project. York argued that TxDOT caused property damage and is ultimately responsible for the wrongful removal of these trees because TxDOT directed the trees to be removed and the subcontractor’s workers were under TxDOT’s instruction and guidance, whether intentional or not.

This situation raises two main questions about the Texas Tort of Claims Act:

  • Are subcontractors considered to be “employees” or under the “paid service” of the Government for purposes of the Act?
  • Can TxDOT be the proximate cause of tree removal when a TxDOT employee was not physically present at the time of the tree removal?

Briefing in the Supreme Court has been completed, and the case has been submitted for the Court’s consideration. A ruling is expected sometime in early to mid-2024. The Supreme Court could decide to resolve the question before it based on the present record or send the case back to the trial court to develop additional evidence for the Court’s consideration.