AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court recently concluded that Rice University's police officers are “officers of the state” for purposes of reviewing whether the officers are entitled to official immunity.
In a straightforward opinion, the Court reasoned that private university peace officers are authorized to enforce state laws within their jurisdictions and as such act as officers of the state. The Court then concluded that when the Texas Legislature vested private university officers with the powers, privileges, and immunities of peace officers, this included the right to immediately challenge a trial court's refusal to grant them immunity.
This appellate win for the university and the police officer stems from a false imprisonment case filed by a man who was arrested for driving while intoxicated and evading arrest after a pursuit near campus. Rice University and the officer were represented in the appeal by attorneys Lara Hollingsworth, Andy Drumheller and Rusty Hardin of Houston's Rusty Hardin & Associates.
The man who was arrested sued the school and the police officer after the criminal charges were dismissed. Rice University and the officer argued that the case should be dismissed because the officer was protected by official immunity.
The trial court refused to grant the requested summary judgment. Then Houston's 14th Court of Appeals refused to hear the interlocutory appeal based on the notion that the officer's employment at a private university did not give him the right to appeal. In a per curium opinion, the Texas Supreme Court disagreed and sent the case back to the intermediate appellate court to hear the appeal.
“Several private Texas universities filed amicus briefs supporting Rice University's contention in this case. This ruling benefits officers at all Texas private institutions of higher education,” said Ms. Hollingsworth. “These officers are licensed by the state and serving the public in much the same way as state-employed peace officers. The Court's ruling is consistent with the Legislature's intent. Now, private schools and their police officers don't have to go through a whole trial before their immunities can be made clear.”
The court's public summary of the case explained: “. . . the private university police officer is an officer 'of the state' because by statute the Legislature has conferred on him the authority to enforce state law on the Rice campus, a public purpose, and vested him with all a police officer's powers, privileges and immunities. Those powers, privileges and immunities include interlocutory appeals.”
The case is William Marsh Rice University and Gary Spears v. Rasheed Refaey, No. 14-0048.
Rusty Hardin & Associates, LLP, has built a solid reputation for taking on the causes of its clients and obtaining favorable results in both civil matters and significant criminal cases. See www.rustyhardin.com.