Bravo! Judge Mays Gets It Right on Municipal Schools

Posted by John Branston on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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Judge Samuel H. Mays was not fooled by the preposterous. Instead, he let the obvious, in the form of a damning videotape that was played in his courtroom in September, speak for itself. And a state law that was clearly aimed at Shelby County to allow suburbs to form their own school systems was found unconstitutional.

"The legislative history of Public Chapter 905, taken as a whole and fairly considered, firmly establishes that Chapter 905 was designed to apply only to Shelby County," Mays wrote. "That design is not dispositive, but it supports the conclusion, derived from an examination of potentially comparable counties, that Chapter 905 applies to a particular county.

"One example among many occurred on April 27, 2012. When discussing House Bill 1105 (“HB 1105”), which became Chapter 905, two legislators explained why the bill that came from the Conference Committee differed from the bill in its original form:
Rep. Hardaway: [T]his is different from the original Bill in that it only, this is different from the original Bill in that it only pertains to Shelby County?
Rep. Montgomery: That is what it does. What they did here is by stating what I read there, if a municipality is located within a county in which a transition planning commission has been developed, and that is the only county in the State of Tennessee that has that, so it limits it to Shelby. You are right."

Mays wrote that "This and similar exchanges reinforce Chapter 905‟s limited application to Shelby County."

Before reaching the conclusion of his 65-page ruling, Mays established the "ripeness" of the issue.

"The contingencies of August 8, 2011, have become reality. Chapter 905 provides the procedural mechanism for creating municipal school districts . . . Withholding a determination until a later date would cause uncertainty about the validity of municipal school systems that would create a hardship to the Commissioners and to the Municipalities."

Mays spent several pages of his ruling dealing with the contention that the state law could possibly apply to other small counties in West Tennessee, notably Gibson County, which was the subject of two days of tedious courtroom hearings this summer. He concluded that plain words mean what they say.

He wrote: "In other words, courts must “interpret constitutional provisions in a principled way that attributes plain and ordinary meaning to their words and that takes into account the history, structure, and underlying values of the entire document.”

He relied on Black's Law Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary to make his points.

“Reasonable” is a common legal term that means “[f]air [or] proper . . . under the circumstances.” Black‟s Law Dictionary 1272 (Bryan A. Garner ed. 7th ed. 1999). “Rational” is defined as “[h]aving sound judgment; sensible.” XIII Oxford English Dictionary, at 291. “Pragmatic” means “practical; dealing with a practice; matter-of-fact.” XII Oxford English Dictionary, at 278. Together, these terms require courts to apply fair, sensible, and matter-of-fact readings to statutes."

"Theoretical, illusory, or merely possible considerations are distinguishable. See Farris, Theoretical is defined as “existing only in theory, ideal, or hypothetical.” XVII Oxford English Dictionary, at 901. “Illusory” means having “the quality of . . . tending to deceive by unreal prospects.” VII Oxford English Dictionary, at 662. “Possible” refers to that “which may come about or take place without prevention by serious obstacles.” XII Oxford English Dictionary, at 175. Together, these terms suggest that courts must refrain from statutory interpretations that are hypothetical, unreal, or face serious obstacles."

And finally, Mays wrote: "Applying reasonable, rational, and pragmatic rules, Chapter 905 does not and will not apply to Gibson County."

A former chief of aide to former Tennessee governor Don Sundquist, Mays was not fooled by the elaborate burlesque of the municipalities and their lawyers.

"There is in the history a sense of a wink and a nod, a candid discussion of the bill‟s purpose occasionally blurred by a third-party correction. The history is clear, however, that the bill never would have passed had it not been intended to apply only to Shelby County.

"Only Shelby County has undertaken the process set forth in Chapter 1. Chapter 905 establishes a series of conditions that have no reasonable application, present or potential, to any other county.

"Although general in form, Public Chapter 905 is local in effect. Because it does not include a provision for local approval, Chapter 905 is VOID under Article 11, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. All actions taken under the authority of Chapter 905 are VOID. The Municipalities are enjoined from proceeding under Chapter 905 to establish municipal school districts."


Related story: A Judicial Joke

Comments (15)

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So...if I read this right, Mays struck down 905, but he hasn't answered the question about PC01 or 970.

So...in other words, we're back to where we were a year ago. Norris-Todd still exists and thus is assumed constitutional unless proven otherwise. However, 905 (which was the most tenuous piece of legislation in my opinion) is gone, which means we have to wait until August 2013 to hold our referendums and maybe even more overwhelmingly pass an affirmative vote for MSD formation.

I'm sure some of the local lawyers on the board can tell me if I'm right or wrong in my reading of this.

My honest hope is that our local politicians are able to take up ALL MSD laws in the next legislative session though to get statewide legislation passed, so that future legal challenges are much less likely to even be heard. Time will tell.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 11/28/2012 at 8:50 AM

Hot off the press--get your "Neshoba County Now!" and "Todd Curry For Neshoba County Mayor" t-shirts. Get 'em while they last!

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Posted by Scott Banbury on 11/28/2012 at 9:13 AM

Reb, it was tenuous because not even a skilled politician like Mark Norris could get 905 through applying to the whole state. What happened in Gibson County scared everyone in education in the state, and that's why the GA stopped it years ago. Once it became clear that it couldn't pass as a statewide bill, Norris passed it as it was. And he is still happy, it shot up the GOP turnout in Shelby County, which was all HE wanted any way.

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Posted by LeftWingCracker on 11/28/2012 at 9:23 AM

Grove, I think, but I may be wrong (I will have to defer to OTP on this matter) that a referendum would not be allowed even in 2013 because of the ban on new school districts.

At this point, I think the only path left for the munis is, as Scott says, Nashoba County. The legislature probably would bless such a move. Then the arguments for the borders could begin and go into litigation for the next 20 years.

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Posted by Jeff on 11/28/2012 at 9:33 AM

Jeff, my understanding is the municipal districts are still a go next year. Public Chapter 1 is still the law, and the municipalities will have to start the process for their school districts over in August, 2013. However, Judge Mays has asked for both sides to present additional arguments regarding PC1 and 970 by some time next month. I'm not sure why he did that instead of just announcing his decisions on the matters. Maybe someone else knows why he did this.

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Posted by GWCarver on 11/28/2012 at 9:53 AM

So is 970 going to be subject to the same private act/general law scrutiny that 905 was? What does 970 actually say?

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Posted by staythirstymyfriends on 11/28/2012 at 10:57 AM

thirsty, from the decision:

Chapter 970 amended § 6-58-112(b) and provides, in relevant part:

From and after the effective date of the transfer of the administration of the schools in a special school district to the county board of education pursuant to § 49-2-502(b), the restrictions imposed by § 6-58-112(b)(1) on creation of municipal school districts no longer apply within such county.

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Posted by GWCarver on 11/28/2012 at 12:14 PM

Sorry for the clutter, but here is a plain English blurb from later in the decision:

Chapter 970 suspends Tennessee‟s general prohibition on municipal school districts in counties in which a transition of administration has become effective.

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Posted by GWCarver on 11/28/2012 at 12:19 PM

GWC, wouldn't that have to apply statewide? And if so, aren't you getting right back into the problem that caused 905 to be declared unconstitutional? The problem with 905 is that it was a private act masquerading as a general law.

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Posted by LeftWingCracker on 11/28/2012 at 12:20 PM

That's how I see it, Cracker. Mays is giving them the chance to argue that it isn't the same thing, probably to reduce the chances of his decision being nullified on Appeal, since they might argue, had he issued a broader ruling, that they had only really presented on 905 and hadn't had a chance to argue on the other matters.

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Posted by Jeff on 11/28/2012 at 12:39 PM

@Jeff,

The other thing I think Mays has done is give the road map to the legislators for the potential flaws in the other laws. 905 was an enabling act. It isn't necessary to allow MSDs to form. It was only necessary to allow the steps to be taken in advance of the ban being lifted.

That said, I still think PC01 is in shaky ground, which is why I hope the legislature is able to address it state-wide, or at least with a population limitation that applies to all large counties in the state, something of that nature.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 11/28/2012 at 12:49 PM

Just imagine if the Dems were still in control of the state legislature, would all this be going on? After all, wasn't this mess started in Nov. 2010 after the Repubs gained control of both state houses, and thus the push began for special school district status for SCSC?

As Alanis Morissette said, "isn't it ironic, don't you think".

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Posted by still living in Berclair on 11/28/2012 at 1:03 PM

Cracker, it would seem to me they are both the same, but diving into this legal stuff is usually a waste of time for me. Better to get an educated opinion. It sure would be nice right now if Jackson Baker could do a Norris interview, part 3.

Anyone know the identities of the third-party plaintiffs and the third-party defendants the judge has invited to weigh-in on this?

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Posted by GWCarver on 11/28/2012 at 1:14 PM

Berclair, I'm from Texas, and even I know that is a red herring. The CC8 would have had to approve any change in the county property tax boundaries, and that wasn't going to happen.

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Posted by GWCarver on 11/28/2012 at 1:19 PM

GWCarver: third-party plaintiffs are city of Memphis and City Council, third-party defendants are state atty gen. and other state officials. MIA, Milan and Gibson County, kicked under the bus.

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Posted by John Branston on 11/28/2012 at 3:42 PM
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