I will have to give it to Hamilton County register of deeds Mark Gravitt and county attorney Rheuben Taylor, who have worked in combination to thwart public notice of a vital racial reconciliation project serving the state’s citizens.
This combination of elected and hired official refuses to allow a recording in “miscellaneous documents” my transportation administrative notice, a legal review of limits on police power.
In three visits with Mr. Gravitt, I fail to get him to enter under my own “power of attorney” my studied and dry legal analysis in the public record. I warn Mr. Gravitt about his authority under Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-13-108, saying it is “ministerial” and that he cannot exercise discretion or impose a review power upon the document.
“I am not an attorney and do not give legal advice,” he said at least twice. Yes, his first item in his list of duties is “Determine whether each instrument offered for registration is entitled to registration under the laws of this state.”
I am not submitting for registration a love letter, a copy of the Sunday funnies, a printed ad in Chattanooga News Chronicle memorializing the death of a wife, a birth announcement or a screed about a neighbor who rents an apartment to noisy college students.
People record their deeds with the register, particularly if they are real estate, to secure their title. “All of the instruments registered pursuant to § 66-24-101 shall be notice to all the world from the time they are noted for registration, as prescribed in § 8-13-108; and shall take effect from such time.” Tenn. Code Ann. 66-26-102. Notice to all the world. In one court opinion, the value of recording is to put others with an interest on notice. “[t]he credit union in registering its deed of trust provided the assignee bank with complete and accurate information as to the matter of inquiry” inquiry. Wash. Mut. Bank, F.A. v. ORNL Fed. Credit Union, 300 S.W.3d 665, 2008 Tenn. App. LEXIS 360 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 24, 2008),
TAN is a legal analysis of the laws of the state of Tennessee, done under a religious duty protected under the first amendment, and an expression under power of attorney of my beliefs and convictions about the scope of Tennessee and federal law. It’s purely a legal document, with nothing personal in its content.
However, this elected official has made an evaluation of the content of the notice and, together with Mr. Taylor, is courageously standing firm in refusing to allow transportation administrative notice Tennessee to be recorded.
Transportation administrative notice is a 3 1/2 year legal project that began Feb. 20, 2018, with my serving it upon City of Chattanooga, a creature of the state and an incorporated reservoir of state power and authority aggregated for the benefit of local conditions along our bend in the Tennessee River. It proposes to end illegal enforcement of Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55, the transportation code, upon people who are not involved in transportation, which in the U.S. is F$676.2 billion industry in trucking alone. That’s about 80 percent of the people using the roads today, according to one study.
My grievance with Mr. Gravitt is not a solitary one. Two other men — Jon Luman and Zee Buchar — have told me of similar dismissals by this courageous public servant.
Ministerial duty & the hand-scratch memo
Mr. Gravitt has authority in Tennessee code to make a record of papers and contracts and agreements, with the original intent of his office that of solving problems pertaining to the sale of lands and houses. Most of his business seems to focus on real estate, but other parts of the law that involve notice and public record are served, too.
The only authority he has to exclude any record is on the question of legibility. If a hand scratch document is indecipherable or an otherwise inaccessible as to the meaning and intent, he has authority to reject it.
TAN is submitted, as prepared by me, under and as a power of attorney. Mr. Gravitt’s job is to “[p]rocure and keep good and well-bound books, to be called books of trust deeds, etc., in which the register shall register, separately from land titles, in the order in which they are filed, all mortgages and deeds of trust on personal property, contracts, leases, powers of attorney, as to personalty, and all other instruments required to be registered that are no part of the title or conveyance of any real estate, so as to have real estate titles in books separate from other conveyances. *** . ” Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-13-108(a)(11)
His office is described in great detail in “The Tennessee Recording System,” a 34,000-word review by University of Tennessee law prof Toxey H. Sewell.
There’s not a great deal of legal opinion about his work or his authority, largely because his office is straightforward and what we call ministerial. A ministerial office is exactly what it sounds like. A minister of the gospel, for example, has no authority to add to or take away from the word of God, the 66 books of The Bible, which are his source and authority. He is not free to deviate in the meaning that God puts into the word.
An elected official, or even a hired official, with a ministerial duty does not have discretion. He cannot claim wiggle room when the statute and what is called case law indicate that he does not.
So is Marc Gravitt going to block the public recording of TAN? Does a man with only ministerial authority, advised by the county attorney, have any authority to lawfully deny this filing?
Is Mark Gravitt right, as Reuben Taylor says in a letter, that TAN papers “are not of the legal import that are allowed to be accepted and recorded in the public records”? Is Mr. Gravitt right, that he can make a legal evaluation of my documents and aver “these documents have no legal effect” and that my “expressed desire to have them recorded in order to put others ‘on notice’ is not a permitted reason for recording same and allowing them to occupy space within the public records of Hamilton County,” as Mr. Taylor says in a letter?
The chancery option
My options of course would be to assail the obstacle in front of me head on. That would be a civil case in chancery court. I have good grounds with which to petition either Jeff Atherton or Pam Fleenor, judges in the court aligned with the concepts of equity and justice. I believe I could win an order chastening of Mr. Gravitt’s boldness and courage. And I might win an award for damages under his bond.
However, that effort would take time, require me to pay a F$285 court filing fee, and deal with court dates, briefs and motions. I wonder: Is that the best use of my time? How can we advance this project which has statewide implications if I’m spending time trying to get it recorded in Hamilton County, one of 95 counties across the state?
Is Hamilton County the only place I can file it? Is the document valid in Hamilton County even if it’s not recorded in the county? Can police powers reform begin in Hamilton County if its key document is not recorded in Hamilton County — and, perhaps, in Rhea County?
Yes, I believe it can be. And, yes, in Rhea County is where the public document of transportation administrative notice is filed.