The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Ouster

Reference Number: MTAS-176
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: November 30, 2016
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Judicial Ouster
Some Tennessee city charters include ouster provisions, but the only general law procedure for removing elected officials from office is judicial ouster. Cities are entitled to use their municipal charter ouster provisions, or they may proceed under state law.

The judicial ouster procedure applies to all officers, including people holding any municipal "office of trust or profit." (Note that it must be an "office" filled by an "officer," distinguished from an "employee" holding a "position" that does not have the attributes of an "office"). The statute makes any officer subject to such removal "who shall knowingly or willfully misconduct himself in office, or who shall knowingly or willfully neglect to perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by any of the laws of the state, or who shall in any public place be in a state of intoxication produced by strong drink voluntarily taken, or who shall engage in any form of illegal gambling, or who shall commit any act constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude". T.C.A. § 8-47-101.

T.C.A. § 8-47-122(b) allows the taxing of costs and attorney fees against the complainant in an ouster suit if the complaint subsequently is withdrawn or deemed meritless. Similarly, after a final judgment in an ouster suit, governments may order reimbursement of attorney fees to the officer targeted in a failed ouster attempt.  T.C.A. § 8-47-121.

The local attorney general or city attorney has a legal "duty" to investigate a written allegation that an officer has been guilty of any of the mentioned offenses. If he or she finds that "there is reasonable cause for such complaint, he shall forthwith institute proceedings in the Circuit, Chancery, or Criminal Court of the proper county." However, with respect to the city attorney, there may be an irreconcilable conflict between that duty and the city attorney’s duties to the city, the mayor, and the rules of professional responsibility governing attorneys. Also, an attorney general or city attorney may act on his or her own initiative without a formal complaint. T.C.A. §§ 8-47-101–102. The officer must be removed from office if found guilty. T.C.A. § 8-47-120.

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