Case Style: Roger Liverman and Aaron Liverman v. Denton County, Texas, Denton County Criminal District Attorney, Paul Johnson, Lara Tomlin, Rick Daniel, and Lindsey Sheguit
Case Number: 02-17-00240-CV
Judge: Bonnie Suddeth
Court: Texas Court of Appeals, Second District on appeal from the 16th District Court, Denton County
Plaintiff's Attorney: Pro Se
Defendant's Attorney: Catherine Luft and Matthew Shovlin
Description: This case arises from an unfortunate family dispute among Appellants
Roger Liverman and Aaron Liverman, on the one side, and Katheryn Payne Hall
(Roger’s daughter and Aaron’s sister) on the other. The dispute is rooted in a
1See Tex. R. App. P. 47.4.
disagreement over mechanic’s liens filed by Appellants against Hall’s home in
2008. See Liverman v. State, 470 S.W.3d 831, 833–34 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).
As a result of the filings, Appellants were charged with and convicted of securing
the execution of documents by deception. See id.; Tex. Penal Code Ann.
§ 32.46(a)(1) (West 2016) (providing that a person commits an offense if, by
deception, he “causes another to sign or execute any document affecting
property . . . of any person”). This court reversed the convictions and acquitted
both Appellants, holding that the county clerk had not “sign[ed] or execut[ed]” the
lien affidavits as required to support the conviction. Liverman v. State, 448
S.W.3d 155, 159 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2014) (mem. op.) (reversing Roger’s
conviction), aff’d, 470 S.W.3d at 839; Liverman v. State, 447 S.W.3d 889, 892–
93 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2014) (mem. op.) (reversing Aaron’s conviction), aff’d,
470 S.W.3d at 839. The court of criminal appeals affirmed both decisions in
2015. Liverman, 470 S.W.3d at 839.
In October 2016, Appellants filed, pro se, a complaint of malicious
prosecution against Hall and the Appellees: Denton County, Texas; Paul
Johnson, the criminal district attorney of Denton County, as an employee and in
his individual capacity; and three assistant criminal district attorneys—Lara
Tomlin, Rick Daniel, and Lindsey Sheguit—as employees and in their individual
capacities. Appellees filed a plea to the jurisdiction in response, asserting that
Appellants’ claims were precluded by sovereign and governmental immunity.
After a hearing, the trial court granted the Appellees’ plea to the jurisdiction and
dismissed Appellants’ claims against the Appellees with prejudice. The trial court
did not address the Appellants’ claims against Hall, which remain pending.
I. Our jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal
Before we address the substance of this appeal, we must consider our
jurisdiction. See Freedom Commc’ns, Inc. v. Coronado, 372 S.W.3d 621, 623–
24 (Tex. 2012) (“[W]e must consider our jurisdiction, even if that consideration is
sua sponte.”). This is an interlocutory appeal because the trial court’s order of
dismissal did not dismiss the Appellants’ claims against Hall. See Lehmann v.
Har-Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191, 200 (Tex. 2001) (noting that a judgment is final
only if it disposes of all remaining parties and claims). Generally, we only have
jurisdiction to hear an appeal from a final judgment. Jack B. Anglin Co. v. Tipps,
842 S.W.2d 266, 272 (Tex. 1992) (orig. proceeding). We may only consider
immediate appeals of interlocutory orders if a statute explicitly provides appellate
jurisdiction. Stary v. DeBord, 967 S.W.2d 352, 352–53 (Tex. 1998).
Section 51.014(8) of the civil practice and remedies code provides us with
jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal from the granting of a plea to the
jurisdiction by a governmental unit, such as Denton County. See Tex. Civ. Prac.
& Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(8) (West Supp. 2017) (providing that a person may
appeal an interlocutory order that grants a plea to the jurisdiction by a
governmental unit); § 101.001(3)(B) (West Supp. 2017) (defining “governmental
unit” to include a county as a political subdivision of the state). The Texas
Supreme Court has also held that this jurisdiction extends to claims filed against
officials sued in their official capacities. Tex. A&M Univ. Sys. v. Koseoglu, 233
S.W.3d 835, 845 (Tex. 2007). We therefore have jurisdiction over the
interlocutory appeal of the dismissal of claims made against Denton County and
Johnson, Tomlin, Daniel, and Sheguit in their official capacities.
We do not, however, have jurisdiction over the dismissal of Appellants’
claims against Johnson, Tomlin, Daniel, and Sheguit in their individual
capacities.2 See Adams v. Harris Cty., No. 04-15-00287-CV, 2015 WL 8392426,
at *4 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Dec. 9, 2015, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (dismissing
for lack of jurisdiction interlocutory appeal of grant of plea to the jurisdiction of
claims filed against appellate court clerk in his personal capacity); Sanders v.
City of Grapevine, 218 S.W.3d 772, 776 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2007, pets.
denied) (dismissing for lack of jurisdiction interlocutory appeal of order granting
individual appellees’ motion to dismiss). The assertions of immunity by Johnson,
Tomlin, Daniel, and Sheguit were personal defenses, not ones based on the
governmental unit’s immunity, and therefore do not fall within the purview of
section 51.014(8). See Adams, 2015 WL 8392426, at *4. Accordingly, we
dismiss the portion of Appellants’ appeal that complains of the trial court’s
2By letter dated November 30, 2017, we notified the parties of our
jurisdictional concerns and requested a response from any party desiring to
continue the appeal as it pertains to those claims. Appellants filed a response
but it does not provide us with any basis for jurisdiction over the claims against
Johnson, Tomlin, Daniel, and Sheguit in their individual capacities.
dismissal of their claims against Johnson, Tomlin, Daniel, and Sheguit in their
II. Immunity of Denton County and officials of the district attorney’s office
Governmental immunity defeats a trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction
and thus is properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction. See Tex. Dep’t of
Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 225–26 (Tex. 2004). The trial court
must determine at its earliest opportunity whether it has the constitutional or
statutory authority to decide the case before allowing the litigation to proceed,
and we will review the trial court’s ruling de novo. Id. at 226. It is the plaintiff’s
burden to allege facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court’s jurisdiction, and
we will construe the pleadings liberally in favor of the plaintiff and consider the
plaintiff’s intent. Id.
Absent a waiver of liability by the State, Denton County is entitled to
governmental immunity from Appellants’ claims. See Tex. Nat. Res.
Conservation Comm’n v. IT-Davy, 74 S.W.3d 849, 853 (Tex. 2002) (plurality op.)
(“If the Legislature has not expressly waived immunity from suit, the State retains
such immunity even if its liability is not disputed.”); see also Tex. Civ. Prac. &
Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021 (West 2011) (waiving governmental immunity in
three areas: use of publicly owned vehicles, premises defects, and injuries
arising from conditions or use of property). The Texas Tort Claims Act does not
waive immunity for intentional torts, such as malicious prosecution. Tex. Civ.
Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.057(2) (West 2011) (excluding intentional torts
from waiver of immunity); City of Hempstead v. Kmiec, 902 S.W.2d 118, 122
(Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1995, no writ) (holding TTCA did not waive
immunity for the intentional torts of false arrest, malicious prosecution, and
defamation by the City). This immunity further extends to Johnson and his
assistant district attorneys for actions taken in their official capacities. See City of
El Paso v. Heinrich, 284 S.W.3d 366, 380 (Tex. 2009) (“[G]overnmental immunity
protects government officers sued in their official capacities to the extent that it
protects their employers.”).
Appellants’ brief to this court does not provide any authority establishing a
waiver of governmental immunity. Appellants instead rely upon the Supreme
Court’s recent holding in a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that the Fourth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution governs a claim for unlawful pretrial
detention. See Manuel v. City of Joliet, Ill., 137 S. Ct. 911, 914 (2017).
Appellants do not explain how Manuel is applicable in this situation, and we
decline any invitation to so apply it.
We therefore overrule Appellants’ complaint as it relates to the trial court’s
dismissal of their claims against Denton County and Johnson, Tomlin, Daniel,
and Sheguit in their official capacities.
Outcome: Having determined that we lack jurisdiction over the Appellants’ appeal of
the trial court’s dismissal of their claims against Johnson, Tomlin, Daniel, and
Sheguit in their individual capacities, we dismiss that portion of the appeal.
Having overruled the remainder of Appellants’ complaint, we affirm the trial
court’s order dismissing the claims against Denton County and Johnson, Tomlin,
Daniel, and Sheguit in their official capacities.