Candace Mullins v. State of Tennessee
The issue presented in this appeal is whether the Tennessee Claims Commission had subject matter jurisdiction to hear a claim against the State of Tennessee arising from the death of a young child who had been removed from his mother's home and placed in the custody of the mother's aunt by order of the juvenile court. The child and his two brothers were removed from their mother's care because of her use of cocaine. At the mother's request and after an investigation, the Department of Children's Services recommended to the juvenile court that custody of the children be awarded to the mother's aunt. Less than a month after the court entered the order of custody, the mother reported concerns about the children's well-being to the Department. A case worker investigated the aunt's home and found no basis to remove the children. Ten days later, one of the children, a five-year-old boy, died from extensive injuries allegedly inflicted by the aunt's nineteen-year-old daughter who lived in the home. The child's mother filed a wrongful death claim against the State alleging negligence on the part of the Department. The Claims Commissioner denied the claim, finding that the Claims Commission did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(a)(1)(E) (1999 & Supp. 2009) and that, in any event, the mother had failed to prove negligence by the Department. We hold that the Claims Commission did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim because the child was not in the care, custody, and control of the State.