The Legal Brief: Third Court of Appeals Rules Against School District Employee Alleging Breach of Non-Disclosure Clause of Settlement Agreement with School District

On August 14, 2020, the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District (Austin), affirmed a lower court ruling that had granted Killeen Independent School District’s plea that the a former District teacher’s breach of contract claim be dismissed on the basis of governmental immunity.  The teacher had sued Killeen ISD on the theory that the District breached a non-disclosure clause included in a 2016 settlement and resignation agreement between the teacher and the District, after another school district withdrew its offer of employment to the teacher upon learning of allegations against teacher (“of viewing inappropriate materials”) while he was employed by Killeen ISD.  In its Memorandum Opinion in Fitzsimmons v. Killeen Independent School District, the Austin Court of Appeals found that the teacher’s claim was barred by governmental immunity.  However, school districts should take note that the Court’s reasoning arguably suggests governmental immunity may have barred the teacher’s claim in this case more because of how the lawsuit was pleaded or argued and less because governmental immunity bars such claims as a matter of law.

In the lower court, the teacher claimed that government immunity had been waived under the Local Government Contract Claims Act, Texas Local Government Code § 271.151-.160, while Killeen ISD had argued in its “plea to the jurisdiction” that the settlement and resignation agreement did not meet the definition of a contract subject to the Act’s provisions.  Killen ISD had also argued that the plaintiff teacher had no recoverable damages under § 271.153 of the Act (“Limitations on Adjudication Awards”).  The Court of Appeals recognized that the Act limits the total amount of money awarded in an adjudication brought against a local governmental entity for breach of a contract to certain enumerated categories.  The Court did not rule on whether the settlement agreement met the Act’s statutory definition of a “contract subject to this subchapter. “However, the Court of Appeals did hold that “the Act preserves KISD’s immunity if [the plaintiff] has no recoverable damages under Section 271.153.”  Because the teacher did not address damages on appeal, the Court of Appeals held that he “had not challenged every ground that may support the district court’s ruling, and we must affirm its order on the unchallenged ground.”

The Memorandum Opinion may be found at the following link