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Hale v. State

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

February 2, 2017

DANNY HALE
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Session November 22, 2016

         Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. T20141330 William O. Shults, Commissioner

         This appeal involves a suit filed in the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee for the wrongful death of Tammy Hale. The claimant, Ms. Hale's father, titled his cause of action as one for "negligent care, custody, and control of persons" pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(a)(1)(E). The claimant alleged that the State was responsible for the actions of an inmate whose release was not conditioned upon participation in community supervision for life as required by section 39-13-524. The State sought dismissal, alleging that the claim was really one for "negligent deprivation of statutory rights" based upon the failure to adhere to section 39-13-524, which does not confer a private right of action. Following a hearing, the Claims Commission, William O. Shults, Commissioner, agreed and dismissed the claim. The claimant appeals. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Tennessee Claims Commission Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Michael E. Richardson, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Danny Hale.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andree S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Eric A. Fuller, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., J. and D. Michael Swiney, C.J., joined.

          OPINION

          JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         Terry Releford, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, aggravated assault, three counts of aggravated rape, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, was sentenced to confinement in the Tennessee Department of Correction ("the TDOC"). Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-524 requires that those convicted of certain offenses, including aggravated rape, remain subject to community supervision for life in order "to protect the public from the person's committing a new sex offense, as well as [to promote] the rehabilitation of the person." The requirement of community supervision for life must be included on the judgment of conviction pursuant to Section 39-13-524.[1] The requirement was not included on Mr. Releford's judgment of conviction for aggravated rape.

         Upon noticing that Mr. Releford's judgment of conviction did not contain the proper notation, the TDOC specifically requested a corrected judgment from the Bradley County District Attorney's Office by letter, dated September 23, 2005. A corrected judgment was never entered, and Mr. Releford was released without the requirement of further supervision on May 21, 2012.

         Following his release, Mr. Releford met Tammy Hale, a mother of two young girls. They married on August 20, 2012. On May 19, 2013, Mr. Releford murdered Ms. Hale, who was nine months pregnant with his child, and raped one of her daughters.

         Ms. Hale's father, Danny Hale ("Claimant"), filed a notice of claim with the Division of Claims Administration against the State, namely the judicial and prosecutorial officials involved in the case, alleging a cause of action for negligent care, custody, and control of persons pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(a)(1)(E). He claimed that the officials had committed negligence by failing to correct the judgment to reflect the requirement of community supervision for life pursuant to section 39-13-524.

         The claim was transferred to the Tennessee Claims Commission ("the Claims Commission") with William O. Shults serving as the Claims Commissioner. The State filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the State officials were entitled to immunity and that the claim was really one for negligent deprivation of statutory rights based upon the failure to adhere to section 39-13-524, which does not confer a private right of action. Claimant sought to amend his complaint to include the TDOC as a party. Commissioner Shults dismissed all claims against the judicial and prosecutorial officials and any allegations presumably based upon the negligent deprivation of statutory rights, finding that section 39-13-524 did not confer a private right of action. However, he permitted a hearing on whether the TDOC could be held liable for the negligent care, custody, and control of persons pursuant to section 9-8-307(a)(1)(E).

         The case proceeded to a hearing, at which several witnesses testified. Torye Lee, a TDOC employee, testified that she was promoted to a management position in the sentence computation services unit approximately 12 years ago. She stated that the TDOC is responsible for documenting an offender's sentence and calculating release eligibility dates and sentence expiration dates. She provided that her unit is specifically responsible for ensuring that all orders of conviction received from the court are inputted into the TDOC system within ten business days. She stated that the analysts in her unit cannot change an illegal sentence unless they receive a corrected order from the court. She explained that the analysts contact the jail, the court, or the district attorney's office by telephone, email, fax, or letter to ensure that the information they have is correct or to request a corrected order when needed. She stated that there is not a procedure in place when a timely response to her unit's inquiries is not received.

         Ms. Lee provided that her unit is also responsible for indicating whether an offender is subject to community supervision for life upon his or her release. She identified a copy of a letter she sent to the Bradley County District Attorney General's Office regarding Mr. Releford's aggravated rape convictions. The letter, dated September 23, 2005, provided as follows:

This letter is in reference to Terry Releford being sentenced in Bradley County, Tennessee on March 3, 1998.
He was convicted of Aggravated Rape in the above listed case and received a total sentence of seventeen years. This order does not indicate that he is to receive community supervision for life per [Tennessee Code Annotated section] 39-13-524.
Please clarify the court's intent by having an amended or corrected order forwarded advising that this conviction carries lifetime supervision. At this time, our record is not flagged to ...

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