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Webb v. Dallas, Tex., City of

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20135
Nos. No. 01-11398, 314 F.3d 787/(5th Cir., 12/16/2002)

The court holds that Texas' doctrine of sovereign immunity does not render the city of Dallas immune from a suit by the heirs of a landowner who bequested land to the city for use as a park. Under the bequest to the city, if the land was not used as a public park or if the park name was changed, the land reverted to the landowner's heirs. The city used the land as a public golf course. In 1998, the city renovated the golf course, raised green fees, and changed the course name. The heirs filed suit seeking reverter of the land because the green fees were so high the course was no longer a public park and because the park name had change. The city moved for summary judgment, but the district court denied the motion. The city appealed claiming that the heirs lacked standing and that they were barred by sovereign immunity. The court first holds that the heirs have standing. As heirs under the deed of the land, they have a personal stake in seeing that the city adheres to the restrictions on the land. The city's failure to operate the land in accordance with the deed injured the heirs, and reverter of the lands will redress that injury. The court next holds that the city has waived its immunity from suit and is not exempt from suit by the heirs. Under Texas law, immunity from liability and immunity from suit are two distinct principles. Immunity from liability protects the state against judgment even if its has consented to suit, and immunity from suit bars an action against the state unless the state expressly consents. The city conceded it waived immunity from liability by accepting the deed-restricted conveyance of the land, but it argued that it had not waived immunity from suit. However, the city charter states that the city may sue or be sued, and under Texas Supreme Court precedent, such language constitutes an express waiver of immunity from suit.