86th LegislatureJudicialLocal NewsSan Antonio Responds in Chick-fil-A Lawsuit, Claiming Immunity

The city says it cannot be sued for booting the restaurant from the airport since the "Save Chick-fil-A" bill became law after the removal.
April 13, 2021
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After the San Antonio City Council swept Chick-fil-A out of the airport, the Texas legislature passed a law that enabled four San Antonians to sue the city for religious discrimination against the restaurant.

Now that the lawsuit has reached the Supreme Court of Texas, the city has fired back.

Since the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill passed into law after San Antonio had already cleared the restaurant from the airport, the city claims that they are safe from legal action. San Antonio also previously won at a lower court on the grounds that it had the right to end contracts made for the city’s benefit.

“Absent retroactive application, the plain language of the statute makes clear that San Antonio is immune from suit for conduct which occurred prior to the statute’s effective date,” the city’s response reads.

“Because San Antonio cannot be liable for conduct preceding the effective date, governmental immunity is not waived with respect to conduct before the effective date.”

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The plaintiffs, four San Antonio citizens, sued the city just days after the law went into effect. In their petition for review, they claim they are not suing the city retroactively. Instead of suing the city for removing Chick-fil-A, the San Antonians are suing the city for replacing it.

“The plaintiffs have not alleged — and they have never argued — that the city council’s initial decision to ban Chick-fil-A from the San Antonio airport violated [the law], because the statute was not in effect at that time,” the petition reads.

The citizens seek to undo actions the city took after removing the popular chain, namely installing a different vendor in its place.

Since the citizens have no connection to Chick-fil-A other than being customers, the city also says they may lack standing since they have suffered no injury beyond a “thwarted desire to purchase a Chick-Fil-A Sandwich at the San Antonio Airport.”

The high-profile lawsuit has drawn amicus curiae briefs from Governor Greg Abbott and 62 members of the Texas legislature. In response to the mounting public attention, San Antonio shrugged, claiming that the governor’s and lawmakers’ support for the four citizens overlooks the fact that Chick-fil-a was removed before the bill to protect it became law.

“Because their presentation rests on assumptions, derived from Von Dohlen’s brief, that are not accurate, their perspectives do not establish the importance of this case to Texas jurisprudence,” the city wrote.

The city went to the Fourth Court of Appeals after failing to convince Judge David Canales at the Bexar County District Court to dismiss the case under a Texas Rule of Civil Procedure that allows dismissals of suits with “no basis in law or fact.” The city then won at the Fourth Court of Appeals, successfully persuading the court that “a contract made for the benefit of the state” may slip past the waiver of governmental immunity that the bill authors included in the law.

Broadly, governmental immunity is a legal doctrine with ample precedent in Texas that protects the state from being sued without its own consent. It also covers political subdivisions, such as cities.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), the authors of the law, waived governmental immunity in the text: “A person who alleges a violation of Section 2400.002 may sue the governmental entity for the relief provided under Section 2400.003. Sovereign or governmental immunity, as applicable, is waived and abolished to the extent of liability for that relief.”

Even with the case gaining momentum, Chick-fil-A has kept its peace. After a Federal Aviation Administration probe eventually led the city to allow the restaurant back, Chick-fil-A quietly demurred.

“We are always evaluating potential new locations in the hopes of serving existing and new customers great food with remarkable service,” Chick-fil-A said in a statement. “While we are not pursuing a location in the San Antonio airport at this time, we are grateful for the opportunity to serve San Antonians in our 32 existing restaurants.”

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.