LUDYE N. WALLACE
METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE ET AL.
Session April 9, 2018
by Permission from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No.
18-0254-I Claudia Bonnyman, Chancellor
assumed jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to Tennessee
Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d)(1) and Rule 48 of the
Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court and ordered expedited
briefing and oral argument. The issue we must determine is
whether the vacancy in the Office of Mayor of Metropolitan
Nashville and Davidson County may be filled at the August 2,
2018 election, or whether it must be filled at a special
election pursuant to section 15.03 of the Metropolitan
Charter. We conclude that section 15.03 of the Metropolitan
Charter requires that a special election be set, that the
Davidson County Election Commission therefore acted in
contravention of the Charter in setting the election on
August 2, 2018, and that the trial court erred in denying Mr.
Wallace's claims for relief and dismissing this case.
Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed. The
Commission is hereby ordered to set a special election in
accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-14-102(a).
This opinion is not subject to rehearing under Tennessee Rule
of Appellate Procedure 39, and the Clerk is directed to
certify this opinion as final and to immediately issue the
Code Ann. § 16-3-201(d)(1) Appeal by Permission;
Judgment of the Chancery Court Reversed with
A. Horwitz and Jamie R. Hollin, Nashville, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Ludye N. Wallace.
Barkenbus Fox and Catherine J. Pham, Nashville, Tennessee,
for the appellees, Metropolitan Government of Nashville &
Davidson County and Davidson County Election Commission.
Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court,
in which Cornelia A. Clark, Sharon G. Lee, Holly Kirby, and
Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
JEFFREY S. BIVINS, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Factual and Procedural History
March 6, 2018, the Mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and
Davidson County, Tennessee resigned. On that same date, the
Metropolitan Clerk notified the Davidson County Administrator
of Elections of the vacancy in the Office of Mayor. On March
9, 2018, the Davidson County Election Commission (the
"Commission") met, in part, for the purpose of
setting a date for an election to fill the vacancy in the
Office of Mayor. The Commission heard a brief presentation by
legal counsel for the Commission, discussed the matter, heard
public comment, including comment by counsel for Mr. Wallace,
and further discussed the matter. The Commission then voted
three to two against filing a declaratory judgment action
seeking judicial guidance; three to two against setting the
election on May 1, 2018; and three to two in favor of setting
the election on August 2, 2018.
March 12, 2018, Mr. Wallace filed in the Chancery Court for
Davidson County, Tennessee a "Petition for Writ of
Certiorari and Writ of Mandamus, " naming as defendants
the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County
("Metro") and the Commission. Mr. Wallace asserted
jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated sections
27-9-101 (common law writ of certiorari), 29-25-102
(mandamus), and 29-14-102 (declaratory
judgment). Mr. Wallace alleged that he is a citizen
and resident of Nashville and that he is a qualified
candidate for the Office of Mayor. He alleged that the action
of the Commission in setting the election to fill the vacancy
in the Office of Mayor on August 2, 2018, was in
contravention of the Metropolitan Charter (the
"Charter") and so was arbitrary, capricious, and
illegal. Mr. Wallace further alleged that the effect of the
Commission's action was to deny him the right to seek
election to the Office of Mayor because it extended the
election period. According to Mr. Wallace, he lacks the
financial resources to run a campaign for this additional
election period. Mr. Wallace sought a writ of certiorari
voiding the action of the Commission, a declaratory judgment
declaring the action of the Commission illegal, and a writ of
mandamus ordering that the Commission set a special election
in May 2018, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section
2-14-102. Mr. Wallace also filed a motion for extraordinary
relief and for an expedited hearing.
March 12, 2018, the trial court issued a writ of certiorari
and directed Metro and the Commission to forward to the Clerk
and Master of the Chancery Court a transcript and complete
record of the proceedings before the Commission. On that same
date, the trial court granted Mr. Wallace's motion for an
expedited hearing and set the hearing for March 14, 2018.
March 13, 2018, Metro and the Commission filed a motion to
dismiss on the ground of failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted pursuant to Rule 12.02(6) of the
Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Metro and the Commission
subsequently filed a declaration of the Administrator of
Elections with exhibits, including a digital recording of the
Commission's March 9, 2018 meeting. The trial court
conducted a hearing on March 14, 2018. The parties agreed
that the hearing and the subsequent ruling of the trial court
would constitute a final adjudication of and judgment on the
merits, and the trial court considered the matter
accordingly. The trial court issued a ruling from the bench,
finding that Mr. Wallace was not entitled to the relief
sought. On March 16, 2018, the trial court entered its final
order, adjudicating the case on the merits. Based on its
construction of section 15.03 of the Charter, the trial court
concluded: "[T]here is a general metropolitan election
scheduled within 12 months after the March 6, 2018 vacancy in
the office of mayor, and, therefore, no special election is
required. The August 2, 2018 election, a general election
where several metropolitan government offices appear on the
ballot, is a metropolitan general election. Accordingly, the
Election Commission did not err in setting the mayoral
election for August 2, 2018." The trial court denied
mandamus relief and dismissed the case "in its
March 15, 2018, Mr. Wallace filed a notice of appeal. On that
same date, he filed in this Court a motion requesting that we
assume jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated
section 16-3-201(d)(1) and Rule 48 of the Rules of the
Tennessee Supreme Court. By Order filed March 22, 2018, this
Court granted Mr. Wallace's motion, assumed jurisdiction
over this appeal, and set an expedited briefing schedule and
oral argument. Oral argument for this case was held on April
Standard of Review
issue before us is whether section 15.03 of the Charter
authorizes the Commission to set the election to fill the
current mayoral vacancy on August 2, 2018, or whether it
instead requires the setting of a special election, as Mr.
Wallace contends. This issue requires the Court to construe
section 15.03 of the Charter and, more particularly, the
phrase "general metropolitan election" as used in
principles of statutory construction guide us in our
interpretation of the Charter. See Renteria-Villegas v.
Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 382
S.W.3d 318, 321 (Tenn. 2012); Jordan v. Knox Cnty.,
Tenn., 213 S.W.3d 751, 763 (Tenn. 2007). Statutory
interpretation and the application of a statute to the facts
of a case involve questions of law and are reviewed under a
de novo standard of review with no presumption of correctness
afforded to the trial court. Tenn. Dep't of Corr. v.
Pressley, 528 S.W.3d 506, 512 (Tenn. 2017); Arden v.
Kozawa, 466 S.W.3d 758, 764 (Tenn. 2015). We thus
independently review the relevant provisions of the Charter
without any deference to the interpretations of the
Commission or the trial court. See Pressley, 528
S.W.3d at 512.
overriding purpose of a court in construing a statute is to
ascertain and effectuate the legislative intent, without
either expanding or contracting the statute's intended
scope. Ray v. Madison Cnty., Tenn., 536 S.W.3d 824,
831 (Tenn. 2017); Pressley, 528 S.W.3d at 512.
Legislative intent is first and foremost reflected in the
language of the statute. Lee Medical, Inc. v.
Beecher, 312 S.W.3d 515, 526 (Tenn. 2010). "We
presume that the Legislature intended each word in a statute
to have a specific purpose and meaning." Arden,
466 S.W.3d at 764. The words used in a statute are to be
given their natural and ordinary meaning, and, because
"words are known by the company they keep, " we
construe them in the context in which they appear and in
light of the general purpose of the statute. Lee
Medical, 312 S.W.3d at 526; Ray, 536 S.W.3d at
831. "We endeavor to construe statutes in a reasonable
manner 'which avoids statutory conflict and provides for
harmonious operation of the laws.'" Ray,
536 S.W.3d at 831 (citation omitted). When a ...