Norton Rose Fulbright secures victory for City of San Antonio before Fourth Court of Appeals

United States Press release - Business August 25, 2020

A multi-office team of Texas litigators secured an appellate win for the City of San Antonio (City) in its dispute with a group of five political activists. The Fourth Court of Appeals overturned a prior ruling and rendered judgment that the plaintiffs cannot legally sue the City because of a Council vote concerning a Chick-fil-A restaurant at the San Antonio International Airport.

In March 2019, San Antonio's City Council considered whether to approve a proposed concession agreement for the San Antonio Airport that provided for numerous vendors to operate a business within the airport. Two city council members then objected to the inclusion of a proposed food vendor due to constituent concerns based on that vendor's history of "anti-LGBTQ behavior."

The City Council approved the proposed concession agreement but with an amendment requiring that the vendor in question be replaced.

After the Council's vote, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting government entities from taking adverse action against any person or place of business based on "membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization."

Soon after the statute became effective, the plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that the City had violated the statute. The plaintiffs had no connection to the food vendor, which was not a party to the lawsuit. The City denied that its actions had violated the statute and filed a plea challenging jurisdiction based on governmental immunity, which the trial court overruled. San Antonio filed an accelerated appeal to the Fourth Court of Appeals.

The Fourth Court reversed the trial court's ruling and rendered judgment in favor of the City. The unanimous panel, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Sandee Bryan Marion, held that although the plaintiffs purported to seek prospective relief, the "only plausible remedy" for their claims was the nullification of a concession agreement that was approved prior to the enactment of the statute plaintiffs sought to enforce.

The Norton Rose Fulbright team was led by Neel Lane (San Antonio) and included Aimee Vidaurri (San Antonio) and Peyton Craig (Houston).