No Standing for Taxpayer Challenging Removal of Statue

Robinson v. Scripps
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-00349-CV (May 19, 2022)
Justices Carlyle, Smith (Opinion, available here), and Garcia
    Eugene Robinson filed suit against the City of Dallas and Jennifer Scripps, its Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, alleging the City was in the process of disassembling a Confederate War memorial even though its Certificate of Demolition (CD) had expired. The trial court denied Robinson’s application for temporary restraining order, and the Court of Appeals denied mandamus. By that time, the monument had already been removed and placed in archival storage, and the contractor had been paid for the work. The defendants therefore filed a plea to the jurisdiction on the grounds that Robinson’s case was moot. The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit. Robinson appealed.

        In order to have standing to pursue a claim, a plaintiff must allege facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court has jurisdiction to hear the case. As a general rule, a taxpayer does not have standing to contest government decision-making because “[g]overnments cannot operate if every citizen who concludes that a public official has abused his discretion is granted the right to come into court and bring such official’s public acts under judicial review.” However, a taxpayer does have standing to sue to enjoin the illegal expenditure of public funds, and that was Robinson’s hook. He claimed the City could not expend public funds for the disassembly, removal, and transfer of the monument if it did not have a valid CD. By the time the City filed its Plea, however, the work had already been done and the money had been spent. Once the government has spent the funds the taxpayer seeks to enjoin, there is no longer a case or controversy between the parties, and the case becomes moot.

        The Court of Appeals rejected Robinson’s argument that the City’s payment of storage fees created a continuing controversy between the parties, because such fees were not alleged to be “illegal” given that they were unrelated to the expired CD. It also rejected Robinson’s argument that the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to the mootness doctrine applied, finding there was no evidence the City routinely demolishes or removes property without a valid CD. The Court therefore affirmed the dismissal based on lack of jurisdiction.
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