Assigned on Briefs July 3, 2017
from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. T20120644 James A.
Hamilton, III, Commissioner
claimant initiated this action by filing a complaint in the
Tennessee Claims Commission to recover damages for personal
injuries from the State of Tennessee resulting from an attack
by another inmate at West Tennessee State Penitentiary.
Following discovery, the State filed a motion for summary
judgment on the ground that the undisputed material facts
established the assault was not reasonably foreseeable;
therefore, the claimant could not prove proximate cause,
which is an essential element of a negligence claim. The
trial court agreed and summarily dismissed the complaint.
This appeal followed. We affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Claims
Matthew C. Edwards, Bolivar, Tennessee, for the appellant,
William Cook, II.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter, Andree
Blumstein, Solicitor General, and Pamela S. Lorch, Senior
Counsel, Office of the 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 Brandon O.
Gibson, JJ., joined.
G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.
William Cook, II, ("Cook") was attacked and stabbed
by his cellmate, Chad Morrison ("Morrison"), on
December 6, 2010, while both were serving as inmates at West
Tennessee State Penitentiary ("WTSP") in Henning,
Tennessee. Morrison used a "shank, " or a handmade
knife, in the assault and Cook sustained severe injuries as a
Cook's complaint filed with the Tennessee Claims
Commission on March 23, 2012, he contended the State was
liable because Morrison's attack on him was reasonably
foreseeable. Cook alleged that the State was on notice of and
aware of Morrison's dangerous propensity through:
various incidents such as previously making a
"shank" or knife in the prison shop and trying to
conceal it and previously reported dangerous activity such as
threatening a correctional officer. In spite of the fact of
knowing Morrison's dangerous propensity and previously
reported dangerous activity, Defendant took no action to
guard Claimant against or protect Claimant from Morrison nor
did Defendant alert or notify Claimant of Morrison's
dangerous propensity or Morrison's dangerous
State answered the complaint by denying all assertions that
the assault was foreseeable and that prison authorities had
any reason to anticipate Morrison's attack on Cook. The
parties proceeded with discovery and ascertained the relevant
facts summarized below.
was remanded to the custody of the Tennessee Department of
Correction (TDOC) following his fourth DUI conviction, and he
was transferred to WTSP in October 2010 to serve his
sentence. After completing the security assessment process,
WTSP determined that Cook required minimum security, which is
the lowest level of security.
had been incarcerated at WTSP since March 24, 2010. Prior to
his transfer to WTSP, Morrison was housed at the Sullivan
County Jail. During his confinement there, Sullivan County
Jail officials conducted a security assessment for Morrison
and found no record of previously resolved or pending violent
charges, nor did they consider or suspect that Morrison
belonged to a security threat group. After undergoing the
classification process at WTSP, WTSP determined that Morrison
required minimum security.
and Morrison became cellmates at WTSP on October 21 or
October 22, 2010. Morrison assaulted Cook on December 6,
2010. Prior to the assault, Cook and Morrison had a good
relationship, and Cook admitted that Morrison never
taking discovery, the State filed its motion for summary
judgment contending the assault was not foreseeable. More
specifically, the State insisted that Cook could not
establish the essential elements of negligence, particularly
proximate cause; therefore, the State was entitled to summary
judgment as a matter of law. The State supported its motion
with a statement of undisputed facts, which included the
1. Cook's cellmate at WTSP, Morrison, was transferred
from the local jail to WTSP on March 24, 2010.
2. In the Classification Custody Assessment Form, Morrison