Not So Fast: Trial Court Cannot Compel Discovery While Plea to Jurisdiction Attacking Pleadings Is Pending

In re Dallas County, Texas and Dallas County Constable Bill Gipson
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-01144 (May 10, 2022)
Justices Myers, Partida-Kipness (Opinion, linked here), and Carlyle
After Gipson was elected constable, he told deputy constables Woodard and Yarbrough that they would not be re-sworn as deputy constables after he took office. Woodard and Yarbrough sought to pursue grievances with Dallas County. But the County concluded they were not covered by the civil-service grievance system because they had been hired after August 19, 2003; it therefore denied them a grievance hearing.

Woodard and Yarbrough then sued, claiming they were denied their property rights in employment and denied equal protection because they were not allowed to access the grievance procedure available to those hired before August 19, 2003. The County and Constable Gipson answered and filed pleas to the jurisdiction based on governmental immunity. After the jurisdictional pleas were filed, Woodard and Yarbrough moved to compel discovery. The trial court ordered the County and Constable Gipson to respond to discovery requests and to appear for depositions.

The County and Constable Gipson sought mandamus relief, arguing discovery was improper while their pleas to the jurisdiction were pending.

The Court of Appeals explained that there are two types of pleas to the jurisdiction: an attack on the sufficiency of the pleadings and an evidentiary attack on the existence of jurisdictional facts. When a plea to the jurisdiction is based on evidence, a trial court has discretion to decide the plea at a preliminary hearing or later, after the case is more fully developed. If the trial court delays determination, the trial court can also allow targeted discovery on issues relevant to the plea to the jurisdiction. In contrast, when a plea to the jurisdiction is based on the pleadings alone, discovery is not proper while the plea is pending.

The Court of Appeals concluded the County’s and Constable Gipson’s pleas to the jurisdiction were based on the pleadings, so the trial court was obligated to hear and decide the pleas to the jurisdiction before compelling discovery. Further, the Court of Appeals noted that even if this were a scenario where the court could compel targeted discovery, the trial court erred by failing to confine the compelled discovery to jurisdictional issues. The Court of Appeals therefore granted mandamus relief, directing the trial court to vacate its order compelling discovery.
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