Special Three-Judge Panels

In May 2021, the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed an act to create special three-judge panels for cases that meet specific criteria. The law required the Tennessee Supreme Court to promulgate rules governing the practice and procedure of those panels.  In June 2021, the Tennessee Supreme Court amended the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee to add new Rule 54, Interim Rule for Special Three-Judge Panels, effective July 1, 2021. 

Under the law, the Supreme Court will select two trial court judges to sit with the judge to whom the case was originally assigned. There will be one judge from each of Tennessee’s three grand divisions and the Supreme Court will designate a chief judge for the case. On the panel, a majority vote rules. The venue for the case is the county where the plaintiff resides and is Sumner County if the plaintiff is not a Tennessee resident.


Key Documents

Legislation creating the three-judge panels - Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 20, effective July 1, 2021
Tennessee Supreme Court Interim Rule 54


Criteria & Procedure For Cases

The law states the following:

"(a) A civil action in which the complaint meets each of the following criteria must be heard and determined by a three-judge panel pursuant to this chapter:

(1) Challenges the constitutionality of:

     (A) A state statute, including a statute that apportions or redistricts state legislative or congressional districts;

      (B) An executive order; or

      (C)An administrative rule or regulation;

(2) Includes a claim for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief; and

(3) Is brought against the state, a state department or agency, or a state official acting in their official capacity."

Section 1 of Rule 54, Interim Rule for Special Three-Judge Panels, basically adopts the language of T. C .A. Section 20-18-101(a); however, it does add that this rule applies to amended complaints, counter-claims, and third-party complaints as well as complaints.

Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 54 details the initial procedure that must be followed, including notice and service requirements. The presiding judge in the judicial district where the notice is filed makes the initial determination as to whether the case meets the criteria for a three-judge panel. Within 10 days of receiving notice, the presiding judge will notify the Supreme Court of the filing and the initial determination. The Supreme Court makes the final determination as to whether the case qualifies for a three-judge panel.

Appeals for a case heard by a three-judge panel will be heard by the Court of Appeals, except for redistricting challenges, which will go directly to the Supreme Court. 


Cases Before Special Three-Judge Panels

Only active cases are listed. Cases are removed 90 days after resolution. 

15-1048-III Shelby Cnty. Bd. of Educ., et al. v. Lee, et al., Davidson County

Panel: Senior Judge Don R. Ash, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge Deborah C. Stevens (Eastern Grand Division); Chancellor William C. Cole (Western Grand Division)

Status: Stayed per December 10, 2021 Order

Orders: Motion to Stay Proceedings , Order Granting Further Stay

School districts, local governments, and parents of students from Shelby and Davidson Counties have filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against the Governor, leadership of the General Assembly, and the Chairman, Vice-Chair, and members of the state Board of Education—alleging the State of Tennessee’s current education funding system violates the Tennessee Constitution and other state laws.  Specifically, the plaintiffs assert violations of the Education Clause, the guarantee of Equal Protection, the prohibition on imposing increased expenditures on local polities without the State sharing in the cost, and statutes governing the operation of Tennessee schools.  Tennessee’s current education funding system, known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP, is codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-3-301, et seq.  An association of other school districts in the state have intervened in the action to join Plaintiffs’ Education Clause claim.  The case is currently stayed pending the 2022 legislative session.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

20-3727-2 Curd v. State ex rel. TBI, et al., Knox County

Panel: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Chief Judge (Eastern Grand Division); Judge Kathryn W. Olita (Middle Grand Division); Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr. (Western Grand Division)

Status: Active

Orders: Appointment Order, Order on Motion to Dismiss (7-14-22)

Petitioner Keith Michael Curd seeks review of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s decision to deny his request for removal from the Sex Offender registry.  Mr. Curd argues that the denial constituted an unconstitutional application of state’s sex offender registry laws because the provision relied upon by the TBI, Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-39-207, was enacted after his conviction and probation.  Curd asserts this constitutes a violation of the state and federal constitutions’ prohibitions on ex post facto laws.

Case Documents and Filings:

Howard G. Hogan, Clerk and Master
400 W. Main Street
City-County Building, Suite 125
Knoxville, TN 37902
(P): (865) 215-2555
(F): (865) 215-2920

21-0018-II Woods v. Rausch, et al., Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Anne C. Martin, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge Barry A. Steelman (Eastern Grand Division); Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr. (Western Grand Division)

Status: Active

Orders: Order on Motion to Dismiss

Plaintiff Terrance D. Woods seeks removal from the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, arguing that the TBI denied his request for removal because of an unconstitutional application of the state’s sex offender registry laws.  Mr. Woods argues that the statutory provision relied upon in the denial, Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-39-207, was enacted after his conviction, rendering the statute unconstitutional in violation of the federal Ex Post Facto clause.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

21-0843-II Little v. Lee, et al., Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Anne C. Martin, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge Barry A. Steelman (Eastern Grand Division); Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr. (Western Grand Division)

Status: Active

Orders: Appointment Order, Order on Motion to Dismiss, Declaratory Judgement (7-27-22)

Petitioner Darren Marion Little seeks review of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s denial of his request for removal from the state Sex Offender Registry.  Mr. Little asserts that the TBI’s decision involved a retroactive application of amendments to the sex offender registry made after his conviction in violation of the federal Ex Post Facto clause.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

22-0278-IV Moore, et al. v. Lee, et al., Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge J. Michael Sharp (Eastern Grand Division); Chancellor Steven W. Maroney (Western Grand Division)

Status: Active

Orders: Supreme Court judgment

Plaintiffs, three Tennessee voters, have challenged the state House and Senate redistricting maps enacted by the General Assembly.  Plaintiffs argue that the House redistricting map violates Article II, Section 5 of the Tennessee Constitution as interpreted by the Tennessee Supreme Court in State ex rel. Lockert v. Crowell, 631 S.W.2d, 702 (Tenn. 1982), by crossing more county lines than is necessary to create substantially equal districts by dividing 30 counties.  Plaintiffs also argue that the Senate redistricting map violates Article II, Section 3’s requirement that senatorial districts in the same county have consecutively numbered districts by creating non-consecutively numbered districts in Davidson County.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

20-0143-II Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., et al. v. Tenn. Dep’t of Educ., et al.,Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Anne C. Martin, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge Tammy M. Harrington (Eastern Grand Division); Judge Valerie L. Smith (Western Grand Division)

Status: Active

Orders: Supreme Court mandate

Plaintiffs, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, and the Shelby County Government, filed suit against Governor Bill Lee, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, and the Tennessee Department of Education, challenging the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program, Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-2601, et seq., also known as the ESA Act.  Plaintiffs assert the ESA Act violates the Tennessee Constitution’s (1) Home Rule Amendment, contained in Article XI, Section 9, by affecting only two counties; and (2) equal protection guarantees of Article I, Section 8, and Article XI, Section 8, by providing for disparate and arbitrary treatment of Davidson and Shelby County.  Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

20-0242-II McEwen, et al. v. Lee, et al., Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Anne C. Martin, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge Tammy M. Harrington (Eastern Grand Division); Judge Valerie L. Smith (Western Grand Division)

Status: Active

Orders: Appointment Order

Plaintiffs, parents of students enrolled in Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools, filed suit against Governor Bill Lee, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Department of Education, and members of the Tennessee State Board of Education, challenging the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program, Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-2601, et seq., also known as the ESA Act.  Plaintiffs assert the ESA Act violates the Tennessee Constitution’s (1) Home Rule Amendment, contained in Article XI, Section 9, by affecting only two counties; (2) equal protection guarantees of Article I, Section 8, and Article XI, Section 8, by providing for disparate and arbitrary treatment of Davidson and Shelby County; and (3) requirement of a single system of public schools by providing for private schools as set forth in the Education Clause, Article XI, Section 12.  Plaintiffs also assert that the ESA Act violates (4) the statutory funding scheme for Tennessee known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-3-301, et seq., by diverting BEP funds appropriated for the schools of Davidson and Shelby Counties; and (5) requirements for the appropriation of public money as set forth in Article II, Section 24, and Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-4-601 because the General Assembly did not appropriate funding for the ESA Act.  Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

CLOSED CASES

20-0640-I Smith v. Gerregano, Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr. (Eastern Grand Division); Judge Rhynette N. Hurd (Western Grand Division)

Status: Closed

Orders: Order on Cross-Motions for Summary JudgmentFinal Order

Plaintiff Brenda Smith, doing business as Sugar Creek Carriages, has challenged the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s application of the Amusement Tax, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-6-212, to her business.  She claims the Department has exceeded the scope of its authority assessing Sugar Creek Carriages under the statute.  Mrs. Smith also asserts that the Department has violated federal and state constitutional guarantees of equal protection by levying the amusement tax against her horse-drawn carriage business but not other similarly situated businesses throughout the state.

Case Documents and FilingsChancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County

22-0080-III Rutan-Ram, et al. v. Tenn. Dep’t of Children’s Servs., et al., Davidson County

Panel: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, Chief Judge (Middle Grand Division); Judge Carter S. Moore (Eastern Grand Division); Judge Roy B. Morgan (Western Grand Division)

Status: Closed

Orders: Final order

Plaintiffs Elizabeth and Gabriel Rutan-Ram are a Jewish married couple who were denied, because of their differing faith, services by Holston United Methodist Home for Children, a child-placing agency that professes a Christian belief system.  Holston receives state funding through the Department of Children’s Services.  The Rutan-Rams state this alleged religious discrimination is expressly approved by Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-147.  They are joined by several other plaintiffs from across the state in asserting that both Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-147 itself and the Department’s funding of Holston violate Article I, Section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of worship and separation of church and state.  They also argue that the statute and the Department’s funding of Holston violate the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee Constitution.

Case Documents and Filings: Chancery Clerk and Master of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County