Cobb v. Harrington
In Cobb v. Harrington, 144 Tex 360, 190 S.W.2d 709 (1945), the Texas Supreme Court considered a remarkably similar dispute.
In that case, a Texas company brought a declaratory judgment action against the Texas State Comptroller to declare "whether or not respondents are legally liable to pay and petitioners are legally authorized to demand, collect and receive from respondents an occupation tax measured by the gross receipts of "motor carriers'" under a Texas statute. Id. at 362, 190 S.W.2d at 710.
In rejecting the sovereign immunity defense, the Texas court explained that declaratory judgment did not "impose liability upon the State or compel the performance of its contracts" nor was it an action "for the recovery of money from the State" that would be paid out of the State treasury. Id. at 365-66, 190 S.W.2d at 712.
The court further explained that the action was not one to control a state official that was "acting within the scope of authority lawfully conferred upon him." Id. at 366, 190 S.W.2d at 712.
Rather, the action only sought to "obtain a judgment declaring that respondents were not motor carriers as defined by the tax statute, and that petitioners, in endeavoring to compel respondents to pay the tax, were acting ... without legal authority." Id.
The court ultimately concluded that when state officials perform acts that are in excess of their statutory authority, they are not "acts of the State" within the rule of immunity. Id.