Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Taxpayer must have standing to challenge the expenditure of public funds

This lawsuit challenges actions by the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority (the "Airport Authority") and the Bradley County Commission (the "Commission") involving the rezoning by the Commission of certain property located in Bradley County from Forestry Agricultural Residential to Special Impact Industrial. The Airport Authority intends to relocate the Cleveland Municipal Airport to the rezoned property. Frankie Lewis originally filed this lawsuit and Herbert Haney was added later as a plaintiff. As pertinent to this appeal, the Trial Court determined that Lewis lacked taxpayer standing to bring this lawsuit against the Airport Authority and granted the Airport Authority's motion to dismiss. Lewis appeals the dismissal of his lawsuit against the Airport Authority. As to the Commission, both plaintiffs allege statutory and procedural violations surrounding notice of the requested rezoning and the conduct of the Commission in eventually granting the request for rezoning. The Trial Court granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment after concluding that there were no genuine issues of material fact and the Commission was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Both Lewis and Haney appeal that summary judgment. We conclude that the Trial Court did not err in granting the Airport Authority's motion to dismiss and the Commission's motion for summary judgment. The judgment of the Trial Court is, therefore, affirmed.

Opinion may be found at the TBA website:

"[T]his Court in City of New Johnsonville acknowledged that the Supreme Court in Cobb required three elements to establish taxpayer standing: (1) taxpayer status; (2) specific illegality in the expenditure of public funds; and (3) the taxpayer has made a prior demand on the governmental entity asking it to correct the claimed illegality.  In the present case, the Airport Authority is a governmental entity created not by Bradley County but by the City of Cleveland.  Plaintiff Lewis does not allege that he is a taxpayer in the City of Cleveland.  Rather, he alleges that he is a taxpayer from Bradley County.  The tax revenue spent by the Airport Authority was from city funds, as opposed to county funds.   Therefore, Plaintiff cannot establish the first of the three elements that must be met in order for him to proceed as a taxpayer in a lawsuit against the Airport Authority.  Likewise, Plaintiff has not alleged that he made a prior demand on the Airport Authority, as required by the third element discussed by our Supreme Court in Cobb v. Shelby County Bd. of Comm’rs, 771 S.W.2d 124 (Tenn. 1989)."Id.

"We further conclude that because Plaintiff’s taxpayer dollars are not being spent by the Airport Authority, he cannot establish a “special injury” not common to the body of citizens as a whole.  In fact, he cannot show any injury at all by the use of city funds when he is not a city taxpayer."  Id.