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Vetrano v. State

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 8, 2017

DONNA MARIA VETRANO, et al.
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Session Date: September 7, 2016

         Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission, No. T20160051, Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner

         Former inmate and her husband filed a complaint against the State of Tennessee, alleging that state employees negligently supervised and retained a prison guard who sexually assaulted the inmate. The Tennessee Claims Commission determined it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim and dismissed the complaint. We conclude that the former inmate's claim falls within a category of claims for which the Claims Commission has exclusive jurisdiction, specifically the "[n]egligent care, custody and control of persons." Term. Code Ann. § 9-8-307 (Supp. 2016). We also conclude the complaint does not seek to hold the State liable for the willful, malicious, or criminal act of a state employee. Accordingly, we reverse.

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

          Brandt M. McMillan, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Donna Marie Vetrano and Ronald David Coggins.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andree S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Jennifer L. Brenner, Senior Counsel, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. MICHAEL SwiNEY, C.J., and Andy J. Bennett, J., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         Donna Maria Vetrano and Ronald David Coggins (collectively "Claimants") filed a claim against the State seeking injunctive relief and compensatory damages after Ms. Vetrano was allegedly sexually assaulted by a prison guard while she was an inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women.[1] Claimants averred that state employees negligently supervised and retained the prison guard who assaulted Ms. Vetrano.

         In addition to the claim against the State, Claimants filed a separate suit against the prison guard in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee. By statute, they could not pursue the circuit court action unless the Claims Commission determined that the prison guard acted outside the scope of his employment.[2] Id. § 9-8-307(b). Consequently, Claimants filed a motion with the Claims Commission seeking such a determination and a motion to transfer their claim against the State to circuit court.

         Before the Claims Commission, the State filed a motion to dismiss. The State asserted that the Claims Commission lacked jurisdiction because the State could not be liable "for the willful, malicious, or criminal acts of state employees." See id. § 9-8-307(d). The State also asserted that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to hear claims arising from the negligent supervision and retention of state employees.

         The Claims Commission granted the State's motion and dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Commission agreed that the prison guard's actions were outside the scope of his employment and that Claimants could ...


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