Justice Green delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case, we consider whether the trial court has subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute between a land developer and a county commissioner. Because an individual county commissioner in Fort Bend County lacks legal authority to receive, process, or present a completed plat application to that county's commissioners court for approval, we hold that the developer has not shown a substantial likelihood that the injunction it seeks against the county commissioner will remedy its alleged injury, and thus, the developer does not have standing to pursue its claim for injunctive relief against the county commissioner. Accordingly, we reverse the
JDC/Firethorne, Ltd. is the developer of Firethorne, a master-planned community on approximately 1,400 acres located within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City of Fulshear. The subdivision falls within Precinct 3 of Fort Bend County (the County), and W.A. "Andy" Meyers is the elected county commissioner for Precinct 3.
The County's plat application and approval process for proposed subdivisions is governed by chapter 232 of the Texas Local Government Code and the Fort Bend County Regulations of Subdivisions. See generally TEX. LOC. GOV'T CODE §§ 232.002,.0025; Fort Bend County, Tex. Regulations of Subdivisions § 2.4-.6 (as adopted Aug. 27, 2002 and revised Sept. 9, 2003, Jan. 6, 2004, Aug. 24, 2004, & Apr. 26, 2005) (hereinafter Regulations of Subdivisions).
TEX. LOC. GOV'T CODE § 232.0025. Section 2.6 of the County's Regulations of Subdivisions provides in relevant part:
Regulations of Subdivisions § 2.6. Thus, the County's Regulations of Subdivisions essentially track section 232.0025 as to the plat-application process, but the County has designated its county engineer as the official charged with receiving and processing plat applications. See id. § 2.6(A). The County has also added steps to the submission process laid out in section 232.0025. Compare id. § 2.4 and 2.6(D) with TEX. LOC. GOV'T CODE § 232.0025. First, Section 2.4 of the Regulations of Subdivisions requires that both the county engineer and the drainage district engineer sign off on the plat and construction documents:
Id. § 2.4(B). Second, as referenced above, the county engineer is the official instructed to "present a completed plat application... to the County Commissioner' [sic] Court." Id. § 2.6(D).
JDC/Firethorne claims that its process of successfully submitting plat applications for approval broke down between January 2014 and October 2014. During that time, JDC/Firethorne submitted to the County's engineering department plat applications and construction plans for eight sections of the Firethorne development, including for Firethorne West Sections 16 and 19. JDC/Firethorne contends that those applications were placed on "hold" in an effort to "extract a concession" from JDC/Firethorne that it must construct four lanes of West Firethorne Road, a road within the Firethorne development. JDC/Firethorne claims that Richard Stolleis, Fort Bend's county engineer, had previously acknowledged in an approved plat that JDC/Firethorne
After an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation, JDC/Firethorne filed this lawsuit seeking mandamus relief requiring Stolleis to "submit the completed plat application for Firethorne West Sections 16 and 19 to the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court" for approval.
At issue in this appeal is the injunctive relief JDC/Firethorne seeks against Meyers. In its amended trial court petition, JDC/Firethorne alleges that Meyers "is inappropriately ... instructing the Fort Bend County Engineering Department to delay processing the Firethorne West Section 16 and 19 submitted plats and construction plans." JDC/Firethorne alleges that in making this instruction, Meyers "attempts to exact a concession (requiring JDC/Firethorne to construct all four lanes of West Firethorne Road) which is not an express, written requirement within the Fort Bend County Regulations of Subdivisions." JDC/Firethorne asks the trial court to issue a permanent injunction "directing that Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers cease and desist — in the future — from instructing the Fort Bend County Engineering Department to `hold,' `delay,' or otherwise impede plats and construction plans submitted by JDC/Firethorne to Fort Bend County for approval individually and in his capacity as a Fort Bend County Commissioner."
Meyers filed a plea to the jurisdiction claiming that JDC/Firethorne's suit against him in his official capacity was barred by governmental immunity.
In its response to Meyers's plea, JDC/Firethorne attached several emails it contends show that Stolleis admitted he is holding the plat applications based on Meyers's "instruction" and that Meyers is applying his own "rule of thumb" in determining what roads developers must build. One email from Stolleis to Meyers states in part:
At the hearing on Meyers's plea to the jurisdiction, the trial court found that Meyers "is a critical part of this entire matter because he's inserting himself in it." It denied the plea but allowed Meyers to reassert it after further discovery. Meyers timely appealed the trial court's interlocutory order pursuant to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 51.014(a)(8). See TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 51.014(a)(8); Tex. A&M Univ. Sys. v. Koseoglu, 233 S.W.3d 835, 845 (Tex. 2007). The court of appeals affirmed, holding that "JDC/Firethorne's response to the plea raise[s] a fact issue as to whether Meyers acted without legal authority for purposes of demonstrating the district court's jurisdiction." 514 S.W.3d 279, 288 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 2016, pet. granted). Additionally, as to whether Meyers is a "responsible government actor," the court held that "[t]he jurisdictional pleadings and evidence, at a minimum, raise a fact issue as to whether the county engineer is violating the plat-application and plat-approval statutes and regulations at the behest or direction of Meyers." Id. at 289. The court rejected Meyers's argument that the ultra vires claim against him is defeated on the basis of his right to free speech. Id. at 290. Finally, the court held that the ultra vires claim does not implicate discretionary acts by Meyers, reasoning that even though the Regulations of
Subject matter jurisdiction is essential to a court's authority to decide a case. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tex. 1993). Governmental immunity from suit defeats a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction, and thus this immunity is properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 225-26 (Tex. 2004). In one issue, Meyers challenges JDC/Firethorne's pleadings, contending that governmental immunity bars JDC/Firethorne's ultra vires suit against him because he is not the county official responsible for processing the County's plat applications, and thus, the injunctive relief JDC/Firethorne seeks against him would not remedy its alleged injury. JDC/Firethorne responds that Meyers is a proper ultra vires defendant because he "lacked authority" under any statute or regulation to instruct Stolleis to halt the review of JDC/Firethorne's submitted plat applications.
The parties debate what "authority" Meyers has regarding processing plat applications in the County. Though the parties argue in terms of our ultra vires jurisprudence, the issue of whether Meyers has the power to advance JDC/Firethorne's plat applications, and thus remedy the alleged harm upon which JDC/Firethorne's suit is based, is ultimately a question of whether JDC/Firethorne has standing to seek this injunction against Meyers. The doctrine of standing, just like governmental immunity, goes to whether or not a court has subject matter jurisdiction to decide a case. Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 443; see also Heckman v. Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 150 (Tex. 2012) ("Standing is a constitutional prerequisite to suit."). Because it is a component of subject matter jurisdiction, standing cannot be waived and may be raised for the first time on appeal. W. Orange-Cove Consol. I.S.D. v. Alanis, 107 S.W.3d 558, 583 (Tex. 2003); Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 445; see also Republic of Tex. v. Laughlin, Dallam 412, 412 (Tex. 1841) ("Before we are permitted to decide the several points made in this case, we feel it to be our duty first to dispose of a preliminary question ... that is, `whether the record and proceedings before us make out a proper case for the interposition and decision of this court.'"). A court can — and if in doubt, must — raise standing on its own at any time. Fin. Comm'n of Tex. v. Norwood, 418 S.W.3d 566, 580 (Tex. 2013); see also Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 445-46 ("Consequently, we proceed to determine here, on our own motion, whether [the petitioner] has standing to bring this suit.").
"In Texas, the standing doctrine requires a concrete injury to the plaintiff and a real controversy between the parties that will be resolved by the court." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 154; see also Brown v. Todd, 53 S.W.3d 297, 305 (Tex. 2001). The standing requirement derives from the Texas Constitution's provision for separation of powers among the branches of government, which denies the judiciary authority to decide issues in the abstract, and from the open courts provision, which provides court access only to a "person for an injury done him." TEX. CONST. art. I, § 13; Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 443-44. "A plaintiff does not lack standing simply
Texas's standing test parallels the federal test for Article III standing: "A plaintiff must allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 154 (quoting Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751, 104 S.Ct. 3315, 82 L.Ed.2d 556 (1984), abrogated by Lexmark Int'l v. Static Control Components, Inc., 572 U.S. 118, 134 S.Ct. 1377, 188 L.Ed.2d 392 (2014)). Given the parallels between the federal test and our own, we may look to federal standing requirements for guidance. Id.; Brown, 53 S.W.3d at 305. The United States Supreme Court has articulated the three elements of the standing test:
Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) (citations omitted); see also Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 154-55 (quoting same).
Similarly, under Texas law, the standing inquiry begins with determining whether the plaintiff has personally been injured, that is, "he must plead facts demonstrating that he, himself (rather than a third party or the public at large), suffered the injury." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 155; see also S. Tex. Water Auth. v. Lomas, 223 S.W.3d 304, 307 (Tex. 2007). The second element requires that the plaintiff's alleged injury be "fairly traceable" to the defendant's conduct because "a court [can] act only to redress injury that fairly can be traced to the challenged action of the defendant, and not injury that results from the independent action of some third party not before the court." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 155 (quoting Simon v. E. Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 41-42, 96 S.Ct. 1917, 48 L.Ed.2d 450 (1976)). This required showing of a causal connection between the plaintiff's injury and the defendant's conduct serves as a means of identifying the proper defendants. See id.; 13A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 3531.5 (3d. ed. 2008). To establish the third standing requirement — often referred to as "redressability" — a plaintiff must show that there is a substantial likelihood that the requested relief will remedy the alleged injury. Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 155-56; see Abbott v. G.G.E., 463 S.W.3d 633, 646 (Tex. App.-Austin 2015, pet. denied) ("The redressability prong deprives courts of jurisdiction over cases in which the likelihood of the requested relief redressing the plaintiff's injury is only speculative."). "If, for example, a plaintiff suing in a Texas court requests injunctive relief ... but the injunction could not possibly remedy his situation, then he lacks standing to bring that claim." Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 155 (citing Williams v. Lara, 52 S.W.3d 171, 184-85 (Tex. 2001)).
The United States Supreme Court has emphasized that "[w]hen the suit is
B. Standard of Review
Appellate courts reviewing a challenge to a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction review the trial court's ruling de novo. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228; see Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 150-51 (reviewing de novo the defendant's plea to the jurisdiction challenging the plaintiffs' standing). When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the pleadings, we determine if the plaintiff has alleged facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to hear the case, construing the pleadings liberally in favor of the plaintiff and considering the plaintiff's intent. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226. If the pleadings do not contain sufficient facts that affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction but do not affirmatively demonstrate incurable defects in jurisdiction, the issue is one of pleading sufficiency and the plaintiff should be afforded the opportunity to amend. Id. at 226-27. On the other hand, if the pleadings affirmatively negate the existence of jurisdiction, such that it is impossible to amend the pleadings to invoke jurisdiction, the plea may be granted and the suit dismissed without allowing the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend. Id. at 227; see also Rusk State Hosp. v. Black, 392 S.W.3d 88, 96 (Tex. 2012) ("In some instances the pleadings or record may conclusively negate the existence of jurisdiction, in which case the suit should be dismissed.").
C. JDC/Firethorne's Standing
This case requires us to examine Meyers's authority as to plat applications in the County. As explained above, to establish standing, a plaintiff must plead facts demonstrating that the plaintiff suffered an injury, this injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct, and this injury is likely to be redressed by the requested relief. Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 155-56; see also Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130. We hold that JDC/Firethorne has failed to satisfy the redressability requirement as to the relief it seeks against Meyers, and thus, JDC/Firethorne lacks standing to pursue this injunction against him in his official capacity.
Whether a plaintiff has sufficiently pled that the requested remedy will redress its harm can turn on whether the plaintiff has shown that the defendant has authority to respond to any requested injunctive relief. See Lujan, 504 U.S. at 568-70, 112 S.Ct. 2130 (concluding that the plaintiffs lacked standing when their injury could be redressed only by terminating funding for foreign projects, and the agencies that funded those projects were not parties to the suit, so any relief the trial court could have provided against the existing defendants was not likely to produce the plaintiffs' requested relief) (Scalia, J.); Okpalobi v. Foster, 244 F.3d 405, 419, 426-27 (5th Cir. 2001) (en banc) (concluding that the plaintiff lacked standing because an injunction granted by the district court was "utterly meaningless" when the defendants had no powers to redress the injuries alleged); Good Shepherd Med. Ctr., Inc. v. State, 306 S.W.3d 825, 836-37 (Tex. App.-Austin 2010, no pet.) (holding, in part, that the plaintiff hospital lacked standing when it was merely speculative that the defendant could redress the hospital's injury); see also 13A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 3531.6 (3d ed. 2008) ("Other cases as well deny standing because ... it is uncertain whether the defendant has authority to respond to injunctive relief."). JDC/Firethorne's insistence that Meyers has acted "without authority" as to the plat-application submission process betrays the deficiency in standing — if Meyers has no legal power over the processing and presentment of plat applications, then JDC/Firethorne has not shown a substantial likelihood that its requested relief will
While there is no remedy the trial court could fashion against Meyers that would afford relief as to JDC/Firethorne's plat applications, JDC/Firethorne does seek relief with respect to other defendants who could remedy its alleged injury. Specifically, it seeks a writ of mandamus directing Stolleis to submit the plat applications to the commissioners court. It also seeks a writ of mandamus directing the commissioners court to approve the applications and an injunction requiring the County and the commissioners court to permit the commencement of the construction of Sections 16 and 19. If the trial court were to issue the requested writs instructing Stolleis to present completed plat applications to the commissioners court and instructing the commissioners court to approve those completed applications, then it would provide full relief for the principal injury about which JDC/Firethorne complains. Thus, any decision from any court granting the requested injunction against Meyers would be ineffectual and unnecessary. See 13A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 3531.6 (3d ed. 2008) ("An abstract decision without remedial consequence seems merely advisory, an unnecessary expenditure of judicial resources that burdens the adversary and carries all the traditional risks of making bad law and trespassing on the provinces of the executive and legislature.").
"Governments cannot operate if every citizen who concludes that a public official has abused his discretion is granted the right to come into court and bring such official's public acts under judicial review." Holland v. Taylor, 153 Tex. 433, 270 S.W.2d 219, 221 (1954) (quoting Osborne v. Keith, 142 Tex. 262, 177 S.W.2d 198, 200 (1944)). Further, "individual commissioners have no authority to bind the county
Because an individual county commissioner in the County lacks legal authority to receive, process, or present a completed plat application to the County's commissioners court for approval, we hold that JDC/Firethorne has not shown a substantial likelihood that the injunction it seeks against Meyers will remedy its alleged injury. Therefore, JDC/Firethorne does not have standing to pursue its claim for injunctive relief against Meyers. Because JDC/Firethorne's pleadings conclusively negate the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, JDC/Firethorne's claim against Meyers in his official capacity must be dismissed. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals' judgment and dismiss with prejudice JDC/Firethorne's claim against Meyers in his official capacity.