Sovereign Immunity: From Jaw-Dropping to Jaw-Breaking

Sovereign Immunity: From Jaw-Dropping to Jaw-Breaking.

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On August 25, 2016, C.B.D., a kindergartner at Wilson Montessori School in Houston, was sent to the principal’s office for misbehaving after kicking a lunch box around with a friend.[1] On the way there, C.B.D. was carried upside down by three school district employees.[2] C.B.D.’s father, Al Durrell, remembers that the school’s program coordinator notified him there was “blood on [his] son and on his clothing and [that] she didn’t know whose blood it was.”[3]  By the time Durrell arrived, C.B.D. needed medical attention—he had a broken jaw and two teeth that needed to be removed.[4]

It is unclear what exactly happened during the trip to the principal’s office. Although school cameras recorded the incident, the school district reported on October 28, 2016, that the accident had been recorded over.[5] Court documents state that at least two of the employees, the program coordinator and principal, had contact with C.B.D.[6] Besides that, Durrell has only three still photographs as evidence that his son was held upside down.[7]

After the incident, C.B.D. transferred to a new school while his father appealed to the school district’s grievance committee.[8] Although the school district agreed to pay for C.B.D’s medical bill up to the date of the hearing, Durrell seeks additional relief.[9]

The Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign immunity protects Texas and its political subdivisions from being liable for the negligent acts of their agents and officers unless the government consents to being sued and held liable.[10] Thus, under Texas Education Code §22.0511, school districts will usually prevail in lawsuits unless a student’s injury arises out of the “operation, use, or maintenance of a motor vehicle.”[11] In addition, the Texas Tort Claims Act protects governmental bodies with sovereign immunity by limiting the amount of money damages to $100,000 for a single person or occurrence.[12] As a result of the robust protection that sovereign immunity provides to school districts, Durrell seeks to take his son’s case to federal court. He hopes that because of C.B.D.’s history of ADHD and epilepsy, C.B.D. will be considered a protected class and that the case may be more successful in federal court.[13]

For more information on sovereign immunity and suits against the government, see O’Connor’s Texas Causes of Action 2017.


[1] Margaret Downing, HISD Invokes Immunity in Case of Kindergartner with Broken Jaw, Houston Press, May 31, 2017.

[2] Margaret Downing, From Incidents with Rattlesnakes to Broken Jaws, Texas Public Schools Are Immune from Lawsuits, Houston Press, June 20, 2017.

[3] Id.

[4] Downing, HISD Invokes Immunity in Case of Kindergartner with Broken Jaw.

[5] Downing, From Incidents with Rattlesnakes to Broken Jaws, Texas Public Schools Are Immune from Lawsuits.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] O’Connor’s Texas Causes of Action (2017), “Sovereign & Governmental Immunity,” ch. 24-A, §2, p. 840.

[11] Tex. Educ. Code. §22.0511.

[12] Downing, From Incidents with Rattlesnakes to Broken Jaws, Texas Public Schools Are Immune from Lawsuits.

[13] Id.

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