TCTA | Superintendent sued over fundraising dispute
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Gavel, law books and scales of justice

Superintendent sued over fundraising dispute

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A Texas school superintendent was sued following a dispute over fundraising efforts to purchase animals at a Future Farmers of America auction. He requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that he was immune from suit because he was acting in his role as superintendent with respect to the fundraiser.

The undisputed facts in the case showed that FFA students from the school district raised animals to show them at an annual auction at the Laredo International Fair and Exposition. The superintendent met with a representative from AT&T, who expressed interest in making a donation to the district's Ag Science Program. The superintendent discussed this prospect with board members.

Representatives from the Laredo International Fair and Exposition asked him whether some of that money could be directed toward student projects for the fair and auction. The superintendent submitted a written petition for funds for both the LIFE auction and the Ag Science Program to AT&T; however, the petition was denied.

The lawsuit was filed by an individual who stated that he was under the impression that the superintendent had spoken to AT&T about contributing funds to the auction. Although he never spoke directly to the superintendent, his daughter was one of the representatives from LIFE with whom the superintendent had discussed the possibility of a donation from AT&T. He testified that for the past 15 years, certain people or companies had contributed money to help bid for animals at the auction and that his understanding of the agreement with AT&T came from conversations with his daughter.

At the auction, he placed a bid for "AT&T Wind Energy" in the amount of $10,476.44 and signed as an "authorized representative." When AT&T refused to pay, he and his daughter paid the money. They then sued the superintendent, arguing that they relied on his promise that he would obtain funds from AT&T when they made the bid. They alleged that the superintendent told the daughter that he had spoken to his "friend" at AT&T and they agreed to donate $10,000 to $15,000 for the auction. It was in reliance on this representation that they made the bid.

The question the court was asked to consider was whether the superintendent was immune from suit. State law provides that a professional employee of a school district is not personally liable for any act that is "incident to or within the scope of the duties of the employee's position of employment." This means that if the superintendent was acting in his professional capacity when he attempted to solicit the funds from AT&T, he could not be sued. But if he was acting in his personal capacity as a private citizen, he could be.

The court of appeals noted that state law defines certain duties that superintendents are expected to perform and that fundraising is not one of them. It also noted that the LIFE auction was not a school-sponsored event. However, the law states that a school district is immune from suit for acts that are "incident to" (in other words, related to) the employee's duties. Although fundraising is not one of the superintendent's duties, he does have the duty to "create and support connections with community organizations to provide community-wide support for the high achievement of all district students." A superintendent also has the duty to "establish mechanisms for community and business involvement in the schools and encourage participation."

The court of appeals held that the superintendent's actions were performed "incident to" his duties as superintendent and that he could not be sued. It then ordered that the lawsuit be dismissed.