JOHN C. WELLS, III
STATE OF TENNESSEE
Assigned on Briefs: October 4, 2016
from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. T20150137
Commissioner William O. Shults, Commissioner
plaintiff is an inmate who filed a claim with the Claims
Commission after the Tennessee Department of Correction made
the determination that inmates were prohibited from
possessing small electric heating appliances known as
"hotpots." He sought compensation for the loss of
his hotpot "under the Takings Clause of the State and
Federal Constitutions." The Commission dismissed the
plaintiff's claim because it did not have subject matter
jurisdiction over takings claims involving only personal
property. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§
9-8-307(a)(1)(V); 12-1-202 (defining "private
property" as "real property, or improvements to
real property . . . ."). The plaintiff appealed,
contending that the definition of "private
property" was unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme
Court's decision in Horne v. Dep't of
Agric., __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2419, 192 L.Ed.2d 388
(2015), which held that the government is required to pay
just compensation under the Takings Clause when it physically
takes possession of either real or personal property. We have
determined that the Commission did not have authority to
decide the plaintiff's facial challenge to the
constitutionality of the statute. We have also determined the
plaintiff would not be entitled to compensation even if his
constitutional challenge to the statute was successful.
Consequently, we affirm the dismissal of his claim.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Claims
C. Wells, III, Mountain City, Tennessee, Pro se.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Eric A.
Fuller, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for
the appellee, State of Tennessee.
G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Thomas R. Frierson, II, and Kenny W.
Armstrong, JJ., joined.
G. CLEMENT, JR., P.J., M.S.
one of six related appeals in which the plaintiffs, all of
whom are inmates, separately challenge "the taking"
of small electronic heating devices known as
"hotpots" as a result of a decision by the
Tennessee Department of Correction
to Department regulations, TDOC must annually publish a list
of personal property inmates are permitted to have in their
possession. See TDOC Policy No.
504.01. The list of approved personal property
that TDOC published in July of 2014 did not include hotpots.
Previously, prisoners were permitted to possess hotpots.
in furtherance of the July 2014 list of approved property,
the warden of the Northeast Correctional Complex
("NECX") issued a memorandum to the NECX prison
population. In relevant part, the warden's memo stated:
Effective July 31, 2014, hotpots will no longer be considered
an approved inmate personal property item at any TDOC
The removal of this item is necessary to comply with
appropriate fire safety standards and to reduce the risk of
Hot pots [sic] may be mailed out of the institution through
July 30. If you do not have sufficient funds to do so, NECX
personnel will dispose of the item in accordance with policy.
Any hotpot found after July 30 will be considered contraband
and dealt with accordingly.
16, 2014, John C. Wells, III ("Plaintiff") filed a
claim with the State of Tennessee Division of Claims
Administration seeking $26.95 in reimbursement "under
the Takings Clause of the State and Federal
Constitutions" for a hotpot he had purchased. The
Division denied Plaintiff's claim, and Plaintiff appealed
the adverse ruling by filing a claim with the Claims
Commission. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-402(c)
("If the claim is denied, the division shall so notify
the claimant and inform the claimant of the reasons therefor
and of the claimant's right to file a claim with the
claims commission within ninety (90) days of the date of the
State responded by filing a motion to dismiss, arguing in
relevant part that the Claims Commission did not have
jurisdiction over Takings Clause claims that involve only
personal property. Under the Tennessee Code, the Claims
Commission has jurisdiction of claims based on
"[u]nconstitutional taking of private property, as
defined in § 12-1-202 . . . ." See Tenn.
Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(V). Significantly,
"private property" is defined as "real
property, or improvements to real property, not owned by the
federal government or a state agency." See
Tenn. Code Ann. § 12-1-202(2). Because ...