Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2017
from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. T20152889 James A.
Hamilton, III, Commissioner
appeal involves a suit filed in the Tennessee Claims
Commission against the State of Tennessee. The claimant
alleged that he was seized without a warrant or probable
cause, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights under the
United States Constitution. The State sought dismissal,
alleging that the Claims Commission did not have the
requisite jurisdiction to hear such a claim. The Claims
Commissioner agreed and dismissed the claim. The claimant
appeals. We affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Tennessee
Claims Commission Affirmed; Case Remanded
Russell Leaks, Memphis, Tennessee, Pro Se.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and
Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Pamela S.
Lorch, Senior Counsel, Nashville, Tennessee, for the
appellee, the State of Tennessee.
W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S. and Brandon O. Gibson, J.,
W. McCLARTY, JUDGE.
Leaks ("Claimant") was provided a conditional
release from the Tennessee Department of Correction
("TDOC") on June 19, 2014, following his voluntary
completion of a TDOC program. Thereafter, on July 3, 2014,
TDOC officials returned Claimant to custody, the reasons for
which are unclear from the record.
26, 2015, Claimant filed a "Claims for Damages"
with the Tennessee Division of Claims Administration.
Claimant sought damages for his illegal seizure in violation
of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The claim was transferred to the Tennessee Claims Commission
("the Claims Commission") with James A. Hamilton,
III serving as the Claims Commissioner. Claimant then filed a
"Claim for Damages" in which he again maintained
that he was illegally seized and that his subsequent
detention was in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
The State filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the Claims
Commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain
such a claim. Claimant objected, citing Tennessee Code
Annotated section 9-8-307, which governs actions based upon
the "negligent care, custody, and control of
persons." He also requested a default judgment based
upon the State's failure to file a response within 30
days of the filing of his "Claim for Damages."
Claims Commission dismissed the claim, finding that it did
not have the requisite authority to hear claims asserting an
alleged violation or deprivation of Fourth Amendment rights
under the United States Constitution. The Claims Commission
also denied Claimant's motion for default judgment,
finding that the complaint was never served upon opposing
counsel. Lastly, the Claims Commission denied any
allegations based upon section 9-8-307 because Claimant
failed to plead the action in his complaint. Further,
Claimant asserted that the actions at issue were intentional,
filed a timely appeal in this court. See Tenn. Code
Ann. § 9-8-403(a)(1) ("The decisions of the
individual commissioners or, when rendered, decisions of the
entire commission regarding claims on the regular docket may
be appealed to the Tennessee court of appeals pursuant to the
same rules of appellate procedure which govern interlocutory
appeals and appeals from final judgments in trial court civil
actions[.]"). The trial court's grant of a motion to
dismiss a case based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction
is a conclusion of law. Blackburn v. Blackburn, 270
S.W.3d 42, 47 (Tenn. 2008); Button v. Waite, 208
S.W.3d 366, 369 (Tenn. 2006) (citing State v.
Cawood, 134 S.W.3d 159, 163 (Tenn. 2004)). The trial
court's conclusions of law are subject to a de novo
review with no presumption of correctness.
Blackburn, 270 S.W.3d at 47; Union Carbide Corp.
v. Huddleston, 854 S.W.2d 87, 91 (Tenn. 1993).
Tennessee Constitution provides that "[s]uits may be
brought against the State in such manner and in such courts
as the Legislature may direct." Tenn. Const. art. 1,
§ 17. "This constitutional provision reflects
sovereign immunity, the notion that a sovereign governmental
entity cannot be sued in its own courts without its
consent." Northland Ins. Co. v. State, 33 S
.W.3d 727, 729 (Tenn. 2000) (citations omitted); Stewart
v. State, 33 S.W.3d 785, 790 (Tenn. 2000). "The
rule of sovereign immunity in Tennessee is both
constitutional and statutory. It is not within the power of
the courts to amend it." Jones v. L & N Railroad
Co., 617 S.W.2d 164, 170 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1981).
legislature has waived its sovereign immunity as to certain
actions brought before the Claims Commission. See
Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-301, et seq. The relevant code
section provides that "[t]he commission or each
commissioner sitting individually has exclusive jurisdiction
to determine all monetary claims against the [S]tate based on
the acts or omissions of '[S]tate employees'"
that fit within one of several categories. Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 9-8-307(a)(1). "Outside of these categories, no
jurisdiction exists ...