Judge Mays: Commissioners’ Petition Against Suburban Referenda “Proper” and “Timely”



U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays
  • U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays
U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays has bestowed his judicial sanction on the legitimacy of an effort by Shelby County Commission appellants seeking to block scheduled August 2 referenda on municipal school districts.

The petition in question was filed a week ago by seven members of the County Commission, all representing portions of the City of Memphis. Formally, the petition was a “third-party response” to litigation initiated more than a year ago in a suit originally filed by the then Shelby County Schools board and later joined in or contested by various other litigants.

Last August Judge Mays issued a consent decree involving all the parties to several overlapping and competing litigations relating to the ongoing city/county school merger case. The decree recognized the Norris-Todd Act of 2011 as a basis for moving forward, but Judge Mays declined at that point to rule on the provision of Norris-Todd that allowed for new municipal school districts in Shelby County upon completion of the merger in August 2013.

As Mays said then and reiterates in his new order, that provision of the Act was not “ripe” because yet not acted upon by a county municipality.

The essential questions to be decided on were whether the Commissioners’ petition was appropriate and whether it was “timely” in that it was filed more than the accustomed 14 days after the “original answer:” — i.e., the past previous filing of 2011 to which it could refer.

On the timeliness question, Mays invoked Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows judicial discretion to grant an exception. As he put it:

The Court’s August 8 Order deferred a decision about the legality of municipal school districts because no municipality had attempted to create a school district….Requesting leave before the referenda were scheduled would have been premature; until the referenda were scheduled the possibility of harm remained distant and attenuated. By filing their Motion when they did, the Commissioners responded appropriately to the Court’s ripeness concerns. The commissioners’ Motion is timely....

…[T]he constitutionality of Chapters 905 and 970 is a natural extension of the legal issues the court considered and decided in its August 8 Order….Granting the commissioners’ Motion would expedite, rather than unduly delay the litigation.

The new Court order further ruled the Commissioners’ complaint was proper even though it challenged additional statutes besides Norris-Todd because “ the constitutionality of Chapters 905 and 970 {two follow-up pieces of enabling legislation passed in the 2012 legislative session]is a natural extension of the legal issues the Court considered and decided in its August 8 Order. The Commissioners do not advance an obviously unmeritorious claim. ”

Mays also granted the Commissioners’ request for an expedited hearing and scheduled a status conference on the matter for Monday afternoon.

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