Insufficient GTLA Complaint Results in Dismissal

A recent Court of Appeals case is a good reminder to pay close attention when drafting your complaint in a Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) case. In Parrott v. Lawrence Co. Animal Welfare League, Inc., No. M2014-01241-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 25, 2015), plaintiff filed suit against two defendants regarding the allegedly negligent removal of her dogs from her property. After the dogs were removed, the County had some involvement and the dogs were housed at a Lawrence County jail, and one of the defendants therefore filed a third-party complaint against Lawrence County. Plaintiff subsequently amended her complaint to assert claims against the county as well.

The trial court granted the county’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, finding that the facts set out in her complaint were insufficient to state a claim under the GTLA, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. As to her negligence claim against the city, the complaint contained the following language:

As a direct and proximate result of the negligent, reckless and intentional acts or omissions of the Defendants, the Plaintiff has sustained damages and losses.

No additional negligence allegations were included, and no specific language regarding the county as a governmental entity was cited.

As the Court explained in its opinion, the GTLA removes immunity from governmental entities “for injur[ies] proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of any employee within the scope of his employment.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205. The GTLA has been interpreted to require a complaint to “overtly allege that the tort was committed by an employee or employees of the governmental entity within the scope of his or their employment. A complaint which does not so state does not state a claim for which relief can be granted because the action is not alleged to be within the class of cases excepted by the statue from governmental immunity.”

Here, Plaintiff failed to allege that an employee of the county committed negligence while acting within the scope of his employment. Such an allegation is required by the GTLA, and dismissal of the case was therefore affirmed.

The lesson here is simple—when filing a claim that falls under the GTLA, pay special attention to the drafting and pleading requirements to avoid a fate like that of this plaintiff.