Supreme Court

20-0811 & 20-0812 

Hartzell v. S.O., consolidated for oral argument with Trauth v. K.E.

  • Case number: 20-0811 consolidated for oral argument with 20-0812
  • Legal category: Governmental Immunity
  • Subtype: Ultra Vires Claims
  • Set for oral argument: September 20, 2022

Case Summary

These cases address whether public universities can revoke degrees of former students.

In Hartzell, S.O. received a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. In 2012, UT initiated an investigation into whether S.O. engaged in scientific misconduct and academic dis-honesty in connection with her doctoral research. After determining S.O. violated its academic standards, UT informed S.O. it intended to revoke her PhD. S.O. filed this suit, seeking declaratory relief that UT could not revoke her degree. UT filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting sovereign im-munity and urging that S.O.’s claims were not yet ripe because it has not revoked S.O.’s degree. In response, S.O. moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied UT’s plea but granted S.O.’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that UT lacks authority to revoke S.O.’s degree and thus acted ultra vires in attempting to do so. The court of appeals affirmed.

In Trauth, K.E. graduated from Texas State University with her PhD in 2011. K.E.’s former faculty advisor later raised concerns about K.E.’s university data collection related to her dissertation. After an administrative investigation, Texas State found that K.E. engaged in academic misconduct and revoked her PhD. K.E. filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to restore her PhD.

In the trial court, Texas State filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting sovereign immunity because Texas State had the authority to revoke K.E.’s degree and arguing that the relief she sought was retrospective, and thus barred by sovereign immunity. The trial court denied the plea, and Texas State appealed. The court of appeals affirmed.

Both universities petitioned this court, arguing that public universities have the authority to revoke degrees. UT also argues that S.O.’s claims are not ripe, and Texas State urges that K.E.’s remedy is retrospective and barred by sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court has granted review and consolidated these cases for argument.

 

Case summaries are created by the Court's staff attorneys and law clerks and do not constitute the Court’s official descriptions or statements. As cases are decided, summaries are updated with any opinions, dissents, or concurrences. Readers are encouraged to review the Court’s official opinions for specifics regarding each case. Links to the full case documents are included above.