The Supreme Court of Texas recently issued an opinion stemming from the death of a student who was shot by a University peace officer. The student’s parents filed a lawsuit against the University and the peace officer. In response, the University argued that governmental immunity protects it from being sued for injuries related to law-enforcement activities.
Sovereign immunity, otherwise known as governmental immunity, protects government officials and entities from certain civil lawsuits. However, Texas waives this immunity in specific situations. That said, plaintiffs still frequently face difficulties recovering in these cases. Texas courts have not extended this immunity to private entities, even if they perform some governmental duties. In some cases, institutions will purport to possess these protections, even though they are private institutions.
In evaluating whether the law provides governmental immunity to an institution, courts will examine whether the party acted as an arm of the state government, and if its conduct fits within the purpose of the doctrine. Generally, private universities do not act as an arm of the state. Even if a university performs law enforcement activities that may protect the public, the doctrine does not extend to these institutions. Although Texas Education Code allows private institutions to hire peace officers, the individual officer’s immunity does not extend to the private institution.