What is a Plea to the Jurisdiction?
A plea to the jurisdiction challenges the trial court’s power to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction. The plea is a “dilatory” plea that is typically used to defeat a plaintiff’s cause of action without regard to whether the claims have any merit.
A plea to the jurisdiction challenges a trial court’s authority to hear a case by alleging that the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s pleadings, when taken as true, fail to invoke the trial court’s jurisdiction.
It may also challenge the existence of jurisdictional facts. In such instances, the plea may require the court to consider evidence pertaining to the jurisdictional facts.
How do Courts Decide a Such a “Plea”?
In deciding a plea to the jurisdiction, courts construe the pleadings in the plaintiff’s favor and look to the pleader’s intent. However, a court may not weigh the claims’ merits, but may only consider the plaintiffs’ pleadings and the evidence pertinent to the jurisdictional inquiry. If a plaintiff fails to plead facts establishing jurisdiction, but the petition does not contain incurable defects in jurisdiction, it is a pleading sufficiency issue, and the plaintiff should be allowed the opportunity to amend. On the other hand, if the pleadings affirmatively negate the existence of jurisdiction, then the plea may be granted without allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to amend.
History of the Plea to the Jurisdiction
The plea to the jurisdiction was included in procedural rules promulgated by the Texas Supreme Court in 1877 and has been used as a procedural vehicle to challenge subject matter jurisdiction in trial courts for over a century and a half. It is, in other words, nothing new.
As early as 1893, Texas courts indicated that evidentiary challenges to subject matter jurisdiction raised in pleas to the jurisdiction should be considered by trial courts.
And in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, Blackstone lists them as a category of dilatory pleas that (along with pleas of disability and abatement) deny the propriety of the remedy rather than the injury.
One hundred years ago, the Texas Supreme Court addressed a variety of matters as pleas to the jurisdiction, including objections based on personal jurisdiction, subject-matter jurisdiction, dominant jurisdiction, venue, capacity, and conflict of laws.
In recent decades, pleas to the jurisdiction have increased in the field of governmental immunity. For many years, governmental units were not very particular about the vehicle for asserting immunity, raising it sometimes by—
- general demurrer;
- special demurrer;
- special exception;
- pleato the jurisdiction;
- pleain abatement; or
- summary judgment.
In recent years, however, the plea it generally asserted through a plea to the jurisdiction, given the right to an interlocutory appeal.