Political Subdivisions Sovereign Immunity In Texas

Under the common law doctrine of immunity, municipalities and other political subdivisions of the State possess limited immunity from actions brought by private third parties. This immunity results from agency principles and the fact that municipalities and political subdivisions are agents of the State. See Lawrence v. City of Wichita Falls, 906 S.W.2d 113, 115 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 1995, writ denied). A political subdivision's immunity is a privilege afforded it based on its existence as a subdivision of the State, and "a municipality, as a political subdivision of the state, is not liable for the acts or conduct of its officers or employees . . . ." City of Lancaster v. Chambers, 883 S.W.2d 650, 658 (Tex. 1994) (emphasis added). In United States Dep't of Energy v. Ohio, 503 U.S. 607, 118 L. Ed. 2d 255, 112 S. Ct. 1627 (1992), the Supreme Court held that the State of Ohio could not collect administrative penalties against an agency of the federal government because Congress has not waived the federal government's sovereign immunity from liability for civil fines imposed by a state for violations of certain federal statutes. See id. at 611. In New Jersey Dep't of Envtl. Protection v. Middlesex County Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 206 N.J. Super. 414, 502 A.2d 1188 (N.J. Super. Ct. Ch. Div. 1985), the court held that a state regulatory agency charged with the administration of waste-management plans could not sue counties for alleged failure to adopt plans because "the exclusive remedy when a county fails to discharge its planning responsibilities under the [New Jersey Solid Waste Management Act] is for the [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] to exercise its own planning powers . . . ." Middlesex, 502 A.2d at 1196. Thus, Middlesex was decided on the basis of the agency's enabling statute. Because the holding in Middlesex did not turn on sovereign immunity, that case does not persuade us that political subdivisions of the State of Texas have independent sovereignty or sovereign immunity vis-a-vis the State.