Circuit Court Complaint not Transferred to Claims Commission.

When a case that should have been filed with the Claims Commission was filed in circuit court and did not “pertain to the negligent operation or maintenance of any motor vehicle or any other…conveyance,” the trial court could not transfer the case to the Claims Commission and dismissal was affirmed.

In Powell v. Tennessee Department of Correction, No. M2018-01677-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 6, 2019), plaintiff filed a pro se complaint in circuit court alleging that TDOC employees injured him “’by gross negligent acts or omissions within the scope of their employment’ in the handling of Plaintiff’s prison disciplinary hearing.” The trial court dismissed the case, finding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and it denied plaintiff’s request to transfer the case. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

“[A]s a general rule, claims for monetary damages against the State may be heard only by the Claims Commission.” (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)). Because plaintiff’s claims did not fall into any exception to this rule, the trial court correctly ruled that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over this case.

Nonetheless, plaintiff argued that the trial court should have transferred the case to the Claims Commission rather than dismissing it. The Court noted that Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(i)(1) “applies specially to the transfer of claims from a court to the Claims Commission,” and that language added to the statute in 1998 allows transfers “only if the case fell within the jurisdiction of the Claims Commission found in subsection (a)(1)(A),” which refers to “the negligent operation or maintenance of any motor vehicle or other land, air, or sea conveyance.” Because plaintiff’s claim did not fall within that category, it was “not eligible for transfer to the Claims Commission.” (internal citation omitted). Dismissal was thus affirmed.

This was a pro se case, but it reiterates the importance of filing a complaint in the correct court. Plaintiff’s mistake in filing with the circuit court rather than the Claims Commission could not be corrected, and he never got to the merits of his claim.