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§69.1 Jurisdiction Generally

The Case: Stewart v. State , 33 S.W.3d 785 (Tenn. 2000).

The Basic Facts: This case involves a jurisdictional question under the Tennessee Claims Commission Act for alleged negligence of a state highway patrol officer in failing to properly control county police authorities at an arrest scene.

The Bottom Line:

  • "It is a well-settled principle of constitutional and statutory law in this state that '[t]he State of Tennessee, as a sovereign, is immune from suit except as it consents to be sued.' Brewington v. Brewington, [387 S.W.2d 777, 779 (Tenn. 1965)]. This doctrine of sovereign immunity 'has been a part of the common law of Tennessee for more than a century and [it] provides that suit may not be brought against a governmental entity unless that governmental entity has consented to be sued.' Hawks v. City of Westmoreland, 960 S.W.2d 10, 14 (Tenn. 1997). Despite this general grant of immunity, however, the courts of this state have frequently recognized that the Tennessee Constitution has modified this rule of absolute sovereign immunity by providing that '[s]uits may be brought against the State in such manner and in such courts as the Legislature may by law direct.' [Tenn. Const. art. I, § 17]; see also Kirby v. Macon County, 892 S.W.2d 403, 406 (Tenn. 1995)." 33 S.W.3d at 790.
  • "Pursuant to its constitutional power to provide for suits against the state, the legislature created the Tennessee Claims Commission in 1984 to hear and adjudicate certain monetary claims against the State of Tennessee. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 9‑8‑301 to ‑307 (1999). While the Claims Commission has exclusive jurisdiction to hear claims arising against the state, cf. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20‑13‑102(a) (1994),FN2 this jurisdiction is limited only to those claims specified in Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(a). If a claim falls outside of the categories specified in section 9-8-307(a), then the state retains its immunity from suit, and a claimant may not seek relief from the state. Cf. Hill v. Beeler, [286 S.W.2d 868, 869 (Tenn. 1956)] (stating that 'except as the Legislature of the State consents there is no jurisdiction in this Board of Claims to entertain suits against the State').
    FN2 Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-13-102(a) provides that [n]o court in the state shall have any power, jurisdiction, or authority to entertain any suit against the state, or against any officer of the state acting by authority of the state, with a view to reach the state, its treasury, funds, or property, and all such suits shall be dismissed as to the state or such officers, on motion, plea, or demurrer of the law officer of the state, or counsel employed for the state."
  • "The courts of this state have traditionally held that any statute granting jurisdiction to hear a claim against the state must be strictly construed, as any such statute is in derogation of the common law rule of sovereign immunity. See, e.g., Norman v. Tennessee State Bd. of Claims, 533 S.W.2d 719, 722 (Tenn. 1975) ('We further recognize that the statutory provisions governing the Board of Claims have been strictly construed, in view of the fact that they do represent an encroachment upon the sovereign immunity and upon the assets of the State.'); State ex rel. Allen v. Cook, [106 S.W.2d 858, 860 (Tenn. 1937)] ('Statutes passed by the Legislature, under the authority of article 1, section 17, of the Constitution, permitting suits against the state, being in derogation of the sovereign's exemption from suits, must be strictly construed.'). Nevertheless, in 1985, the General Assembly amended section 9-8-307(a) to express its intention as to the jurisdictional reach of the Claims Commission: 'It is the intent of the general assembly that the jurisdiction of the claims commission be liberally construed to implement the remedial purposes of this legislation.' Tenn. Code Ann. § 9‑8‑307(a)(3)." Id. at 790-91.
  • "Hence, although we have traditionally given a strict construction to the scope of the Commission's jurisdiction, we also recognize that our primary goal in interpreting statutes is 'to ascertain and give effect to the intention and purpose of the legislature.'Gleaves v. Checker Cab Transit Corp., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 799, 802 (Tenn. 2000) (citing Carson Creek Vacation Resorts, Inc. v. State Dep't of Revenue, [865 S.W.2d 1, 2 (Tenn. 1993)]). If the legislature intends that its statutes waiving sovereign immunity are to 'be liberally construed,' then the courts should generally defer to this expressed intention in cases where the statutory language legitimately admits of various interpretations. A policy of liberal construction of statutes, however, only requires this Court to give 'the most favorable view in support of the petitioner's claim,' Brady v. Reed, [212 S.W.2d 378, 381 (Tenn. 1948)], and such a policy 'does not authorize the amendment, alteration or extension of its provisions beyond [the statute's] obvious meaning.' Pollard v. Knox County, 886 S.W.2d 759, 760 (Tenn. 1994). Moreover, '[w]here a right of action is dependent upon the provisions of a statute . . . we are not privileged to create such a right under the guise of a liberal interpretation of it.' Hamby v. McDaniel, 559 S.W.2d 774, 777 (Tenn. 1977)." Id. at 791.
  • "Accordingly, when deciding whether a claim is within the proper statutory scope of the Commission's jurisdiction to hear and decide claims against the State of Tennessee, we will give a liberal construction in favor of jurisdiction, but only so long as (1) the particular grant of jurisdiction is ambiguous and admits of several constructions, and (2) the 'most favorable view in support of the petitioner's claim' is not clearly contrary to the statutory language used by the General Assembly. Cf. Northland Ins. Co. v. State, __ S.W.3d __, __ (Tenn. 2000) ('The statute's liberal construction mandate allows courts to more broadly and expansively interpret the concepts and provisions within its text.')." Id.
  • "No provision of section 9-8-307(a)(1) specifically defines under what circumstances the state may be held liable for injuries resulting from the '[n]egligent care, custody and control of persons.' An examination of the cases dealing with this grant of jurisdiction, though, makes clear that liability may be imposed for injuries to persons confined in penal institutions, residences, or health facilities maintained by the state. See Learue by Learue v. State, 757 S.W.2d 3, 5 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1987). It is also well established that liability may be imposed for injuries to third persons caused by those persons for whom the state has responsibility. See Hembree v. State, 925 S.W.2d 513, 517 (Tenn. 1996); Cox v. State, 844 S.W.2d 173 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992)." Id. at 792.
  • "The question in this case, therefore, becomes whether Trooper Ray had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care in the care, custody, and control of county deputies at an arrest scene. The State first argues that unlike other subsections in section -307(a)(1), section -307(a)(1)(E) is worded in the conjunctive with the word 'and'; therefore for jurisdiction to exist in this case, the State contends that Trooper Ray must have been negligent in his care of the deputies, in his custody of the deputies, and in his control over the deputies. Cf. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(F) (listing the requirements in the disjunctive with the word 'or'); -307(a)(1)(G) (listing the requirements in the disjunctive with the word 'or'). The State then argues that because the plaintiff does not allege that Trooper Ray had responsibility for the care or custody of the local deputies, the Claims Commission could not have properly exercised jurisdiction." Id.
  • "The State is correct in asserting that statutory phrases separated by the word 'and' are usually to be interpreted in the conjunctive. Cf. Tennessee Manufactured Hous. Ass'n v. Metropolitan Gov't of Nashville, 798 S.W.2d 254, 257 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990) (stating that the word ''and' is a conjunctive article indicating that the portions of the sentence it connects should be construed together'). Nevertheless, this Court has also recognized that the word 'and' can also be construed in the disjunctive where such a construction is necessary to further the intent of the legislature. City of Knoxville v. Gervin, [89 S.W.2d 348, 352 (Tenn. 1936)] ('The word 'and' is frequently construed as meaning 'or.' These words are interchangeable in the construction of statutes when necessary to carry out the legislative intent.'). Although we generally presume that the General Assembly purposefully chooses the words used in statutory language, Federal Express Corp. v. Tennessee State Bd. of Equalization, 717 S.W.2d 873, 874 (Tenn. 1986), it is difficult to conceive that the legislature intended to deny jurisdiction in cases where negligent control of a person by a state employee resulted in injury, even though the injured person was not actually within the care or custody of the state employee. Liberally construing this statute, therefore, we conclude that the Claims Commission could properly assert jurisdiction under section 9-8-307(a)(1)(E) if Trooper Ray had a legal duty to control local police authorities at an arrest scene-irrespective of whether he had actual care and custody over the deputies-and if he was negligent in the fulfillment of that duty." Id.
  • "We have been unable to find any statute or regulation that imposes upon state highway patrol officers the duty or obligation to control local police authorities at an arrest scene, and we are unable to find any statute or regulation that compels county law-enforcement officials to submit to the control of state highway patrol officers at the scene of an arrest.

    In addition, we have found no case from any court in this state suggesting that Trooper Ray was under a common-law duty to control or supervise county police authorities at the arrest scene, and we are reluctant to impose such duty in this case without some precedential authority to do so." Id. at 793.
  • "From our examination of the undisputed facts in the record, we find that as a matter of law, Trooper Ray did not assume any such duty to control the Lewis County police deputies. First, Trooper Ray did not summon the Lewis County deputies to the arrest scene or otherwise request any assistance from the Lewis County Sheriff's Department. In fact, by the time most of the deputies arrived, the driver of the Nova had already been arrested and placed in the back of Ray's police cruiser. In addition, it was undisputed that Trooper Ray did not order, instruct, or request that the deputies perform any specific duties, nor did he attempt to prevent the deputies from performing their own tasks during this time. Although the plaintiff argues that all of the witnesses agreed that Trooper Ray was 'in control' of the arrest scene as Ray was the first officer on the scene, FN5 the actions of the deputies do not confirm this belief. For example, the deputies neither sought Ray's instruction nor his permission to undertake various tasks, such as moving the Nova to the other side of the road, establishing roadblocks and directing traffic around the accident scene, or requesting further assistance after the accident from the Hohenwald Police Department.FN6 Accordingly, because we conclude as a matter of law that Trooper Ray neither possessed nor assumed a legal duty to control local police authorities at the arrest scene, we hold that the Court of Appeals erred in finding that the Claims Commission had jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(a)(1)(E).
    FN5 Even Trooper Ray admitted that because he was the first on the scene, he was the person who was in control of the arrest. Ray later stated, though, that whatever 'control' he possessed disappeared as soon as the arrest was complete and the vehicle was released to a competent driver. Ray testified, and we agree, that after the vehicle was released, the county deputies then assumed control over the former arrest scene by moving the car to the opposite shoulder themselves.

    FN6 In his findings of fact and conclusions of law, the commissioner acknowledged that the officers in this case 'all deferred to each other' and that 'there wasn't any[one] in charge out there.' The commissioner also made a specific finding of fact that Trooper Ray was 'not in charge that night,' concluding that '[t]he question is not that [Ray] was in charge. He was not in charge . . . .'"
    Id . at 794.
  • "Based on our review of the cases interpreting section -307(a)(1)(F), we observe that no court in Tennessee has held that this section permits a claim for personal injury caused by the negligent care, custody, or control of personal property. Rather, virtually every case that has interpreted section -307(a)(1)(F) has construed that statute to permit claims against the state only when the negligence of a state employee in the care, custody, or control of personal property has resulted in the damage or loss of that particular item of personal property itself.FN7 This having been said, however, the precise issue of whether section -307(a)(1)(F) permits claims for damage to persons caused by the negligent care, custody, or control of personal property was not addressed by any of these opinions, and it remains an issue of first impression in this state.
    FN7 Ahkeen v. Parker, No. W1998‑00640‑COA‑R3CV, 2000 WL 52771 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 10, 2000) (stating that suit under section -307(a)(1)(F) provides the remedy for recovery for deprivation of personal property); Reid v. State, No. 02A01‑9807‑BC‑00191, 1999 WL 528837 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 23, 1999) (stating that section -307(a)(1)(F) 'gives the Tennessee Claims Commission jurisdiction over monetary claims against the State arising from the care, custody and control of personal property where the State is negligent in its care, custody and control'); Dean v. Campbell, No. 02A01-9704-CV-00077, 1997 WL 401960 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 17, 1997) (noting that section 9-8-307(a)(1)(F) 'has provided adequate procedures to assure the return of items either negligently or intentionally converted' by state prison officials); Clark v. Tennessee Claims Commission, No. 01A01‑9212‑CH‑00482; 1993 WL 286031 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 30, 1993) (claim for negligent loss or conversion of a prisoner's television converter kit); Spence v. Thomas, No. 01A01‑9105-CH-00161, 1991 WL 153220 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 14, 1991) (dismissing action filed in chancery court for the recovery of personal property from state employees because Claims Commission has jurisdiction over these claims under section -307(a)(1)(F)). See also Fossett v. State, No. 02A01‑9703‑BC‑00061, 1997 WL 714877 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 19, 1997) (holding that child support payments assigned to the Tennessee Department of Human Services were not 'personal property' within the meaning of section -307(a)(1)(F))."
    Id . at 795.
  • "The plaintiff urges this Court to apply a liberal construction to this subsection and allow claims of personal injury resulting from the negligent care, custody, or control of personal property. Because the language of section 9-8-307(a)(1)(F) is subject to various interpretations, and because the plaintiff's interpretation is not clearly contrary to the language of the statute, a liberal construction of this statute counsels against construing it strictly to apply only to claims for damage to the property itself. Accordingly, we agree with the plaintiff that section 9-8-307(a)(1)(F) does permit claims against the state for damages caused by the negligent care, custody or control of personal property by state employees." Id.
  • "Nevertheless, even applying a liberal construction to section -307(a)(1)(F) to permit claims arising from the negligent control of personal property, we find that jurisdiction is still not present under this provision in this case. As soon as Trooper Ray properly released the vehicle, which was in operating condition at the time of the release, his legal duty as to the care, custody, and control of that vehicle ended. When the vehicle later stalled in the middle of the road, the person to whom the car was released requested that the deputies, not Trooper Ray, assist her in moving the car. It is undisputed that the deputies did not seek permission from Ray in order to move the car, and no one testified that Ray gave any instructions to do so. When the deputies complied with this request, therefore, they alone assumed the duty of reasonable care with regard to the stalled car. Because Trooper Ray did not reassume control or custody of the Nova at any point after his proper and lawful release of the car, he cannot be said, as a matter of law, to owe a duty to others to exercise reasonable care, custody, or control of that car. FN8 Accordingly, we hold that the Claims Commission was also without jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate the plaintiff's claim under section 9-8-307(a)(1)(F).FN9
    FN8 We note that the commissioner was quite clear in his findings of fact and conclusions of law that Trooper Ray was not negligent in failing to call a tow truck. The commissioner found that at the time of the release, the Nova was in working order, and although the car had slipped out of gear, this condition did not prevent the car from being driven. The commissioner also found that Trooper Ray had no discretion to tow a car in this case because the car created no safety hazard and because the release was made according to the wishes of the driver. Therefore, as soon as the commissioner found that Ray neither possessed nor assumed a duty to control the disposition of the car after its proper release, he should have dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, at least in so far as section 9-8-307(a)(1)(F) provided the basis for such jurisdiction. Accordingly, because Trooper Ray acted with due care in releasing the car, and because Trooper Ray did nothing as a matter of law to reassume custody or control of the vehicle, we find that the Court of Appeals erred in permitting jurisdiction to rest upon Trooper Ray's alleged negligence in failing to tow the Nova.

    FN9 At the hearing of this case in the Claims Commission, the plaintiff argued that section 9-8-307(a)(1)(A) applied to give the Commission jurisdiction to hear these claims. The parties do not argue before this Court that this section applies, and we find no allegations in either the original or amended complaint that Trooper Ray ever actually operated or maintained the 1974 Nova. Therefore, we conclude that the Claims Commission was also without jurisdiction to hear this case under section 9-8-307(a)(1)(A)."
    Id . at 795-96.

Other Sources of Note: Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307; Conley v. State, 141 S.W.3d 591, 598 (Tenn. 2004) (holding that a medical malpractice action under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(D) unambiguously requires a "professional/client" relationship between the claimant and a state employee.); Hembree v. State, 925 S.W.2d 513 (Tenn. 1996) (holding jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 307(a)(1)(E) should be read to include liability for State's decision to release patient from a state-controlled mental health institute); Shell v. State, 893 S.W.2d 416 (Tenn. 1995) (holding statutory amendment eliminating jurisdiction for claims for negligent deprivation of constitutional rights did not apply retroactively to claim that accrued before amendment's effective date because the amendment did not state that it applied retroactively, its legislative history did not support retroactive application, and it was not remedial in nature; claims commission does not have jurisdiction over intentional torts; once Claims Commission is divested of jurisdiction over a particular action against the State, plaintiff no longer possesses unqualified right to have state administrative tribunal determine merits of claim); Bowman v. State, 206 S.W.3d 467, 472-73 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (holding the State is liable to persons who come on its property "to the same extent that private owners and occupiers of property are liable because Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) has imposed this common law liability on the State.") (internal citations omitted); Begley v. State, 162 S.W.3d 535, 542 -543 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004) (holding under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(A) claims commission had jurisdiction to adjudicate whether the operation and parking of a state owned vehicle was negligent and if so, whether it was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries, but holding Claims Commission did not have jurisdiction pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(J), which governs dangerous conditions on state maintained highways because that section governs potential liability based on physical condition of actual roadway); Byrd v. State, 150 S.W.3d 414, 419 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004) (holding that Claims Commission lacked jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(B) because even though employment of physician who harassed claimants constituted nuisance, nuisance claims were limited to annoyances or disturbances of one's free use of property; alleged sexual harassment by an employee on state-controlled property does not constitute a "dangerous condition" for jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C); State's failure to discipline or terminate employment insufficient to confer jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(E) for negligent failure to supervise, which requires physical control; upholding jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann § 9-8-307(a)(1)(N) because Human Rights Act provides statutory right to be free from harassment, and the Act specifically includes the state as a "person" subject to suit; Claims Commission lacked jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(V) because this provision requires property to be real property or improvements to real property, and claimants' property interest was in contract.); Ku v. State, 104 S.W.3d 870, 875 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002) (holding State university catalog does not create contract sufficient to impose subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 307(a)(1)(L) where it does not expressly state its provisions constitute a contract between the university and the student); Whitaker v. Whirlpool Corp., 32 S.W.3d 222 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (holding Claims Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over fraud claim against Department of Labor workers' compensation specialist); Northland Ins. Co. v. State, 33 S.W.3d 727 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999) (holding Claims Commission does not have jurisdiction to hear contribution and indemnity claims because such claims are not merely expansions of an underlying tort suit but are different remedies existing for different purposes); Reid v. State, 9 S.W.3d 788 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999) (holding Claims Commission did not have subject matter jurisdiction to rule on validity of Tennessee Department of Corrections policy prohibiting inmates from having radios); Daley v. State, 869 S.W.2d 338 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1993) (holding statute waiving sovereign immunity of the state does not extend to claims for negligent deprivation of rights created by a state agency regulation because such a claim is not expressly provided for under the statute); Burchfield v. State, 774 S.W.2d 178 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988) (upholding Claims Commissioner's denial of a mandatory injunction because Claims Commission's jurisdiction is limited under the Act to monetary claims against the state).

Recent Cases: Mullins v. State of Tennessee , No. M2008-01674-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 1372209 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 15, 2009) (affirming Claims Commission's finding that it did not have jurisdiction under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(E) for claims against state for murder of child while in the care of a relative after removal from mother's home by Tennessee Department of Children's services on grounds that child was not in care, custody, or control of the State at the time of the alleged negligence, but modifying with regard to claim pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(E) finding jurisdiction over claim of negligent investigation of the placement of the child with relative because it occurred during the time the child was in the care, custody, and control of State, yet concluding Commissioner reached correct result in dismissing claim based on lack of causation evidence); Miller v. State, No. M2008-01241-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 837888 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 30, 2009) (affirming commissioner's ruling finding no defamation by state employee where employee made no comment about plaintiff at all in news reports); Newell v. Maitland, No. W2007-01704-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2122331 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 21, 2008) (affirming dismissal of negligence claims against state employees for lack of jurisdiction and holding that the Tennessee Claims Commission has exclusive jurisdiction to hear all monetary claims against the State based on acts or omissions of State employees); Francoeur v. State of Tennessee, W2007-00853-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 4404105 (Dec. 18, 2007) (holding that the Claims Commission did not err in considering the State's liability under both Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 9-8-307(a)(1)(I) and 9-8-307(a)(1)(J), but reversing Commission's finding that the State was negligent in maintaining highway under the former section because plaintiff failed to prove that the State was negligent in inspecting the highway or failing to discover and repair a pothole).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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