White County Sheriff’s lawsuit costs the county $180,000 in legal fees

Spartalive.com reports that White County commissioners and White County Sheriff Odie Shoupe have reached a settlement in the sheriff’s lawsuit against the county and that the county commissioners have approved paying over $119,000 for the sheriff’s legal fees and over $60,000 for the county’s legal fees.  The settlement will also allow for additional deputies, corrrectional officers, vehicles, and a secretary.

Tennessee Code Annotated section 8-20-101(a) provides:

The sheriff may . . . make application to the judge of the circuit court in the sheriff’s county, for deputies and assistants, showing the necessity therefor, the number required and the salary that should be paid each; provided, that in the counties where criminal courts are established, the sheriff may apply to a judge of such criminal court; . . .

In order to prevail, the sheriff must show that the deputies and/or assistants are “necessary.”  See Smith v. Plumber, 834 S.W.2d 311 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).  For example, in Smith v. Plumber, the Montgomery County Sheriff requested additional jailers, road deputies, a maintenance man, and a criminal investigator.  After the county executive denied the request, the sheriff sued the county, and the trial court agreed with the sheriff.  However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the trial court because the additional personnel were not “necessary.”  The appellate court reasoned that the statutory duties of a sheriff are (1) serving process, (2) attending the courts, (3) operating the jail, and (4) keeping the peace.  While the sheriff has other common law duties, “[t]he authority of the courts to authorize expense of conducting the conduct of a sheriff’s office is limited to those activities related to the performance of statutory duties for which the collection of a fee is authorized.”

Concerning the road deputies, the sheriff testified that they (1) answer calls requiring canine assistance, (2) back up city police officers and (3) serve civil and criminal warrants that the day shift is unable to serve.  The chief deputy testified that the road deputy duties include (1) occasional transport, (2) serving criminal warrants, (3) occasionally serving subpoenas, and (4) canine back up for city police.  The court of appeals stated the above were a mix of statutory and common law duties, and that by understandably choosing to utilize his road deputies in both types of duties, the sheriff “rendered himself unable to show the necessity needed for additional road personnel to perform any statutory duty.”  Further, there was no evidence in the record that the sheriff could not perform any statutory duty with his presently authorized personnel.

Regarding the criminal investigator, the court of appeals stated that, while the duty to “keep the peace” includes the duty to prevent and suppress crime, there is no statute that requires the sheriff to maintain a criminal investigator.  Moreover, such duties are normally the role of the staff of the district attorney or provided for in the budget for common law duties.

Turning to the additional jailers and the maintenance man, the appellate court noted that the reason for the request was a newly renovated jail.  However, there was no evidence in the record that the renovated jail was ready for occupancy.  The court stated:

If the Sheriff had testified that renovations were complete and the use of the renovated building could not begin without specified additional personnel, the Trial Court would have been justified in authorizing such additional personnel on the date of occupation and use of the renovated building. However, such evidence is not found in this record, and the order of the Trial Judge is not supported by the evidence.

The disposition of this appeal is not a roadblock to progress, it is a beacon light to the orderly path of progress. By timely and proper application and presentation of proof to the Trial Court and/or the County Commission, the Sheriff will doubtless be able to secure approval of the employment of adequate personnel for the performance of his duties, both statutory and [common law].

Based on the above reasoning, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed and vacated the trial court’s judgment and dismissed the Montgomery County Sheriff’s suit.

Smith v. Plummer, 834 S.W.2d 311 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992)


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