Lawsuit wants to end Nashville's environmental court, says it's unconstitutional

Posted at 5:56 PM, May 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-15 23:27:39-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new lawsuit takes aim at Nashville's environmental court alleging that how it was created is unconstitutional.

Three residents filed the lawsuit in Chancery Court on Wednesday, hoping to shut down the court which was established in 1993.

Jamie Hollin represents the plaintiffs, and has also filed the lawsuit against state Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

He said the statute that created the environmental court in Davidson County violated the Tennessee Constitution by excluding necessary language that required local approval. Hollin argues it should have included a provision stating approval by two-thirds of the legislative body in Metro.

He now questions the tens of thousands in fines issued.

"This court is created on the basis of an unconstitutional statute," Hollin told NewsChannel 5.

Environmental court is supposed to address codes violations which include debris in neighborhoods and business sites, illegal dumping and overgrown grass. It also enforces nuisance complaints and dog barking.

Hollin has been coming to environmental court every Wednesday for the past six to eight weeks and representing people for free to dig deeper in the matter. He said he has been able to drop charges in about 70 cases because the warrants were not properly served. In those cases the warrants failed to have certain information.

"It requires certain things to be stated on the return of the warrant, the name of the address and how it's served," Hollin said.

Hollin also said the environmental court has unfairly targeted people who may not have the money or time to appear in court.

“Taking time off work to come to Environmental Court only to find that charges are dismissed as long as you pay 'court costs' and an arbitrary fine is no way to treat people, especially people who cannot afford to pay," plaintiff Colin Lewis said.

The lawsuit wants the court to dissolve and have the other General Sessions Court judges to review the cases. Currently, a 2002 state legislature allowed the court to allow the appointment of a "referee" to hear cases, instead of a judge.

However, Hollin argues the statute to include local approval language be approved did not happen.

There have been 27,000 warrants filed from 2007 to 2019.

The city collected almost $2 million in court costs within the last decade.