Chapter 58: Personal Property

§58.1 Suit to Recover From Government

The Case: Cruse v. City of Columbia, 922 S.W.2d 492 (Tenn. 1996).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff was arrested by city police officers on suspicion of burglary and seized a number of items from Plaintiff's home. After the charges were dismissed due to a defect in the search warrant, the Defendant city returned some of the items seized from Plaintiff's home, but had already returned some of the seized property to those believed to be the lawful owners. Plaintiff brought suit against the city under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-17-118 to recover damages on lost and damaged property.

The Bottom Line:

  • "By its own terms, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 40-17-118 creates a separate cause of action against governmental entities for the return of confiscated property and for damages in the event of damage or destruction to the property. The statute does not condition recovery on proof of negligence on the part of the governmental entity. Thus, while an aggrieved property owner may, in certain limited circumstances, proceed under the GTLA if the government employees have negligently caused injury, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205 (1980 Repl.), a property owner whose property is confiscated may seek relief under Section 40-17-118 regardless of how the damage or destruction occurred. The two provisions are not mutually exclusive. They exist independent of one another. See Jenkins v. Loudon Co., 736 S.W.2d at 607-09. This conclusion is apparent from the text of the two statutes, is consistent with traditional rules of statutory construction, [Sutherland on Statutory Construction, § 23.10 (Sands 5th ed. 1993)], and is bolstered by the fact that the confiscated property statute and the GTLA were enacted the same year. Had the General Assembly intended the latter to absorb the former, it would simply have included the action as an enumerated exception to immunity under the GTLA." 922 S.W.2d at 496-97.
  • "The GTLA itself provides that a twelve-month limitation period applies 'in those circumstances where immunity from suit has been removed as provided for in this chapter.' [Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-305(a) (1995 Supp.)] (emphasis added). Plaintiff's complaint seeks damages not under the GTLA but pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 40-17-118. Her complaint specifically references that statute and does not mention any of the provisions of the GTLA. Because the defendant's immunity from suit has been removed by a statute independent of the GTLA and plaintiff's suit is based on that independent statute, we conclude that the statute of limitations provided in the GTLA for circumstances in which immunity 'has been removed as provided for in [that] chapter' does not apply. Since the statute upon which plaintiff bases her cause of action does not contain a limitation period, the applicable time period is that set forth in Title 28, Chapter 3. Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-101 (1980 Repl.)('All civil actions . . . shall be commenced after the cause of action has accrued, within the periods prescribed in this chapter unless otherwise expressly provided.')(emphasis added). That applicable time period for causes of action for injuries to, detention of, or conversion of personal property is three years as set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated Section 28-3-105." Id. at 497.

Other Source of Note: Lucius v. City of Memphis , 925 S.W.2d 522, 525 (Tenn. 1996) (holding that "only statutes inconsistent with specific provisions of the GTLA are not applicable to suits filed against local governments" and that municipalities are not immune from liability for postjudgment interest on judgments under the GTLA).

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.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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