§69.4 Waiver Arising From Filing Claim
The Case: Haley v. University of Tennessee - Knoxville , 188 S.W.3d 518 (Tenn. 2006).
The Basic Facts: This case involves interpretation of the waiver provision in the Tennessee Claims Commission Act. The petitioner argued that the waiver should not operate when a claimant receives a voluntary dismissal without prejudice from the Claims Commission. The State argued that because the provision provides that the filing of a claim operates as a waiver, a later voluntary dismissal is irrelevant.
The Bottom Line:
- "The Tennessee Claims Commission Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-301 et seq., waives the state's sovereign immunity and provides claimants with a cause of action-and a deep pocket-that they would not otherwise be able to pursue. In exchange for this waiver of immunity, the Claims Commission Act imposes a strict election of remedies requirement. The moment the plaintiff's claim is 'filed' with the Claims Commission, the plaintiff has waived all other causes of action against any state officer or employee based on the same act or omission. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(b)." 188 S.W.3d at 518.
- "The words of the statute are plain: filing the claim waives all other causes of action against any state officer or employee based on the same act or omission. 'Where the language contained within the four corners of a statute is plain, clear, and unambiguous . . . 'the duty of the courts is simple and obvious, namely, to say sic lex scripta ['thus is the written law'], and obey it.'' Carson Creek Vacation Resorts, Inc. v. State of Tenn. Dep't of Revenue, 865 S.W.2d 1, 2 (Tenn. 1993) (quoting Miller v. Childress , 21 Tenn. 320, 321‑22 (1841)). Because 'the words of [the] statute plainly mean one thing they cannot be given another meaning by judicial construction.' Henry v. White, 250 S.W.2d 70, 72 (Tenn. 1952) (citing Mathes v. State, 121 S.W.2d 548, 550 (Tenn. 1938))." Id.
- "Haley argues, however, that a voluntary dismissal or non-suit before the Claims Commission leaves the situation as if the claim had never been brought, effectively reversing the activation of the waiver that occurred upon the filing of the claim. However, in our view, once the claim has been filed and the waiver has been activated, it cannot be 'undone.' The statute provides that filing the claim activates the waiver, regardless of the subsequent disposition of the claim. See White by Swafford v. Gerbitz, 860 F.2d 661, 662 (6th Cir. 1988) (holding that section 9-8-307(b) 'dictates that' plaintiffs waive cognate federal actions upon 'elect[ing] to sue the state before the Tennessee Claims Commission'). In light of the Legislature's unambiguous pronouncement in enacting the Claims Commission Act, we hold that the waiver provision of Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(b) is activated upon filing of the claim, even if the claim is later voluntarily withdrawn or non-suited." Id.