City of White Settlement v. Super Wash, Inc – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In City of White Settlement v. Super Wash, Inc., 198 S.W.3d 770 (Tex. 2006) the court considered whether an exceptional case was presented that would estop a city from enforcing a zoning ordinance where the city mistakenly approved a site plan and issued a building permit contrary to the ordinance. Id. at 772.

Within a week, the city discovered its mistake and informed the permit holder of the mistake and the changes required to conform with the ordinance. Id.

The court held that the facts did not present an exceptional case, asserting, in part, that "while it is true the City issued the building permit in error, the Ordinance was a matter of public record and discoverable by Super Wash before it purchased the lot." Id. at 775.

The court further noted that "even if justice requires estoppel, a city will not be estopped if doing so would interfere with its ability to perform its governmental functions." Super Wash, Inc., 198 S.W.3d at 776. "A city should not be estopped if doing so would hinder its ability to ensure public safety." Id. at 777.

The Texas Supreme Court has "long held that a city cannot be estopped from exercising its governmental functions."

"In general, the rule derives from our structure of government, in which the interest of the individual must at times yield to the public interest and in which the responsibility for public policy must rest on decisions officially authorized by the government's representatives, rather than on mistakes committed by its agents." Id. As a result, "the unauthorized act of a governmental official generally cannot estop a city's enforcement of zoning ordinances." Id. at 774 (citing Stapf, 101 S.W.2d at 232).

The Texas Supreme Court has adopted a limited exception to this general rule which allows a municipality to be estopped "where the circumstances clearly demand its application to prevent manifest injustice" and "there is no interference with the exercise of the municipality's governmental functions." Id.

The court has applied this exception in only one circumstance where city officials affirmatively misled a party from timely filing a notice of claim. Id. at 774--75.