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City enforces driver license law in defiance of Tennessee code

Chief David Roddy serves Mayor Andy Berke of Chattanooga. Together they agree to enforce the state’s privilege enforcement statute at Title 55, particularly the driver license provisions that are by law enforceable only by the state highway patrol. (Photo Chattanooga police department)
City police arrested Wesley Demetris Norwood in violation of the Tennessee code, which says the department of safety and homeland security is charged with enforcing the driver license statute. Misuse of the state shipping law is the principle means of holding on to Jim Crow customs in the South.

Chattanooga is unable to show how it has legal authority for its police department to enforce the driver license law.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

The department routinely files criminal charges against people for violations of the driver license law, but the activity violates provision Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55-50-201 of the law and city attorney’s office is unable to produce documents showing a delegated authority.

This reporter made a public records request May 11 for “a digital copy of any and all agreements, covenants, contracts, delegation orders or other documents” giving the city authority “to administer any part of this chapter (Chapter 50) in Title 55.”

The city said in an email that it is unclear “that records responsive to your request exist” and Mr. Noblett’s clerk asked seven more days. The request remains unfulfilled 119 days later. Law requires response in seven days.

Authority not delegable

It is perhaps silly to ask for such documents. It is a principle in law that power is given, and cannot be delegated. 

If driver license enforcement power resides with that state department, that department has no authority to delegate it to another, such as City of Chattanooga. Neither the general assembly nor the department of safety and homeland security, an agency in the executive branch, can delegate authority for enforcement of a privilege statute such as that for the driver license at Title 55.

This is a maxim of law, as noted by Bouvier’s Maxims (Law Dictionary, Vol. 2, 1856), who records two versions of this limiting concept:

Delegata potestas non potest delegari. A delegated authority cannot be again delegated. 2 Co. Inst. 597; 5 Bing. N. C. 310; 2 Bouv. Inst. n. 1300.

Delegatus non potest delegare. A delegate or deputy cannot appoint another. 2 Bouv. Inst. n. 1936; Story, Ag. §33.

The law is clear as to which party will enforce the driver license statute. It is the department of safety and homeland security, which oversees the Tennessee highway patrol. The patrol is the tax and safety enforcement arm of the department, and is the “sole agency” to enforce the safety regulations of the public thoroughfares, roads, boulevards, interstates and streets. 

City response to my open records request on authority to enforce the driver license law.

The object of THP enforcement is the use of the state privilege. That privilege is, as Tennessee transportation administrative notice explains, the use of the public roads for private profit and gain, in a for-hire capacity, with the activity under state control that of being a carrier, of either goods or people (passengers).

City police routinely enforce Title 55, which is effectively federal law. This activity is ultra vires, outside the scope of the statute, and also outside the authority of the department’s grant to enforce ordinances. City police serve municipal interests, according to the charter, and do not have authority to enforce an area of law reserved by statute to the department of safety.

The Tulis Report is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

Get your T-TAN now: Tennessee Transportation Administrative Notice creates traffic court defense, cause of action vs. cops

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