Cameron Cnty. Appraisal Dist., et al v. Rourk, et al, No. 13-15-00026-CV, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 834 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi Jan. 28, 2016, no pet.)
Rourk, et al (collectively “Rourk”) sued Cameron County Appraisal District, its chief appraiser, and its district appraiser seeking a declaration that the assessment of property taxes on travel trailers and recreational vehicles was an illegal and unconstitutional act, and seeking attorneys’ fees. Rourk claimed the travel trailers and recreational vehicles were tangible personal property exempt from taxation under Texas Property Tax Code § 11.14(a). The trial court held that in assessing the personal property the chief appraiser was in violation of statutory and constitutional provisions and failed to perform a purely ministerial act, and it awarded Rourk attorneys’ fees. The Appraisal District and appraisers appealed, claiming that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Rourk’s claims because the chief appraiser was protected by governmental immunity. They further argued that the ultra vires exception to governmental immunity was inapplicable in this case because the chief appraiser did not act without legal authority or fail to perform a ministerial act.
The court of appeals stated that the ultra vires exception to governmental immunity applies where the official acted without legal authority or failed to perform a ministerial act. In contrast, an ultra vires suit cannot be brought if it involves the official’s exercise of discretion or an incorrect agency decision. The court of appeals held that Rourk’s complaint involved the chief appraiser’s interpretation of the tax code, a matter requiring discretion. Moreover, the court of appeals held that the application of an exemption was not a purely ministerial act. Accordingly, the court of appeals agreed that the complaint did not fall within the ultra vires exception and dismissed Rourk’s action for lack of jurisdiction.