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State denies power to enforce traffic laws; but city ‘adopts’ license, tag, insurance rules

The city’s response to an open records request confirms the city has no delegated authority to order cops to enforce the driver license law. The city, however, enforces such laws once they are adopted as city ordinances — which they are. These ordinances, then, should by law prosecuted in city court as administrative violations, not as crimes, (Photo David Tulis)
Officer Joseph Ogg is authorized to enforce state law when it has been adopted by the city and put into the charter. (Photo Chattanooga PD)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Oct. 25, 2022 — The city of Chattanooga lacks authority to enforce the state’s primary motor vehicle laws that have operated for decades to enforce Jim Crow regulation and other social engineering necessities upon blacks, the poor and everybody else (in the interest of consistency).

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio Network

But city police have authority to “administer” or “enforce” the parallel laws adopted by the city that touch on driver license, registration and proof of insurance.

These are the three legs upon which commercial government stand in Tennessee.

An open records request indicates there is no arrangement between the city and the departments of revenue or safety by which the city might theoretically enforce state law directly.

The city’s police department is authorized by the charter to enforce ordinances of any state law adopted by the city council as an ordinance.

Let’s say Officer Joseph Ogg arrests a traveler in his car — Charlie Bell, the dad, handyman and painter on probation following a drug case conviction.

Mr. Ogg, if citing city ordinance, has authority over driver licenses, financial responsibility and registration of Mr. Bell.

If, that is, the cops cites the ordinance, because his job under Tennessee code is peacekeeping (a common law authority recognized by statute as inhering in any adult in the state) and under the charter it is enforcing ordinances. His claim is civil, not criminal. The lower preponderance of the evidence standard applies at the bench trial in the corporation court, aka city court. The tougher to beat beyond a reasonable doubt standard does not apply.

Charlie Bell is a painter who uses the public right of way for private purposes and private business, not as a shipper or hauler. His traffic arrest highlights the problem of abusive police enforcement. (Photo Charlie Bell)

The cop doesn’t have authority to enforce the state law directly because administration/enforcement of these rules in the motor vehicle code at Title 55 is assigned to state agencies. State law is like glowing kryptonite that repels even the most honorable police superman.

Superman Joseph serving city of Chattanooga shrinks back from touching it. Or he should. Why? Because the department of safety administers and enforces driver licenses and insurance. The department of revenue enforces and administers the registration of cars where an owner converts a car, truck or motorbike into a motor vehicle for tax purposes. These actions are best described as state privilege enforcement actions. 

They are administrative

They are civil (preponderance evidence standard).

They are controlled by the UAPA, or the uniform administrative procedures act. This act requires a contested case hearing before a matter involving a state executive branch agency is heard judicially.

Confrontations are handled in agency, under administrative law, before an ALJ (administrative law judge) before going to court.

City adopts ‘motor vehicle’ rules

It appears that city cops are gaming the legal system to have more clout, punch, vigor, violence against members of the traveling public. They charge them with crimes under state law when authority is limited to ordinances.

The city and its blue-uniformed, armored and armed troupe of officers such as Mr. Ogg is in the game of enforcing its adopted version of state law. Chattanooga’s ordinances are found at . The corporation adopts provisions of the state law at Title 55 as ordinances. When they cite, summons or arrest, their targets come within the jurisdiction of the city’s judicial branch, the city court. The police officer enforces state — and now city — claims upon privileged activity. 

The privileged activity in view is driving and operating a motor vehicle, which is commercial in nature. 

Let’s remember, as we look at these ordinances, that they apply to commercial users. These users are not free by right to use the roads as do Chattanooga residents and visitors exercising common law, constitutional, statutory and other rights under our constitutional form of government. Commercial users are making a profit on the streets, roads, boulevards, avenues, stroads and lanes and highways, with the pavement being their essential place of business as they carry goods or people for hire.

Cops serving the city “administer” the driver license law, again, by adoption of state privilege enforcement mechanism as ordinance, as follows:

Sec. 24-43. – Driver’s license required for operation of a motor vehicle.

  1. No person may operate a motor vehicle of any kind on any street, road, highway, or public thoroughfare within the city unless such person has a valid driver’s license.
  2. (b) No person while within the passenger compartment of any motor vehicle shall steer or exercise any degree of physical control of a vehicle towed by a motor vehicle upon a street, highway or public thoroughfare within the city unless such person has a valid state driver’s license.

(Ord. No. 9898, § 1, 7-13-93)

The city adopts financial responsibility law, applicable to “every motor vehicle” in the corporate limits, as follows:

Sec. 24-47. – Compliance with financial responsibility law required.

  1. Every motor vehicle within the corporate limits must be in compliance with the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law of 1977, as amended.
  2. At the time the driver of a motor vehicle is charged with any moving violation under this title, chapters 8 and 10, parts 1—5, chapter 50, any provision of this municipal code regulating traffic, or at the time of an accident for which notice is required under T.C.A. § 55-10-106, the officer shall request evidence of financial responsibility as required by this section. In case of an accident for which notice is required under T.C.A. § 55-10-106, the officer shall request such evidence from all drivers involved in the accident, without regard to apparent or actual fault.

What about ‘registration plate’?

The city adopts the registration requirement for using a car as a motor vehicle. Meaning, if you are using your car for private profit and gain, carrying goods or people for hire, you have to register it with Hamilton County clerk Bill Knowles as a motor vehicle. And now the rules for registration.

Notice that the ordinance is written to run parallel with state law. It doesn’t explicitly ADOPT state law by reference. That is the usual and perhaps only legal process by which the city  corporation can enforce state law. In other words, of itself and of its own delegated authority from private acts creating the city, Chattanooga doesn’t have authority to enforce registration laws. These are enforceable by the revenue department. It can do so by adoption. But here it is:

Sec. 24-44. – Automobile registration required.

No vehicle may be operated upon the streets, highways, or public thoroughfares of the city unless such vehicle has been properly registered as required by state law.

(Ord. No. 9899, § 1, 7-13-93)

  1. All motor vehicles operated within the city shall display registration plates issued by a state government.
  2. The registration plate issued for passenger motor vehicles shall be attached on the rear of the vehicle. The registration plate issued for those trucks with a manufacturer’s ton rating not exceeding three-quarter (¾) ton and having a panel or pickup body style, and also those issued for all motor homes, regardless of ton rating or body style thereof, shall be attached to the rear of the vehicle. The registration plate issued for all other trucks and truck tractors shall be attached to the front of the vehicle. All dealers’ plates, as provided in § 55-4-221, and those registration plates issued for motorcycles, trailers or semitrailers shall be attached to the rear of the vehicle.
  3. Every registration plate shall at all times be securely fastened in a horizontal position to the vehicle for which it is issued so to prevent the plate from swinging and at a height of not less than twelve (12) inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom of such plate, in a place and position to be clearly visible and shall be maintained free from foreign materials and in a condition to be clearly legible. No tinted materials may be placed over a license plate even if the information upon such license plate is not concealed.
  4. A person charged with a violation of this section may, in lieu of appearance in court, submit a fine of ten dollars ($10.00) for a first violation, and twenty dollars ($20.00) on second and subsequent violations to the clerk of the court which has jurisdiction of such offense within the county in which the offense charged is alleged to have been committed.

(Ord. No. 9900, § 1, 7-13-93; Ord. No. 12055, § 5, 12-18-07)

The court referred to in paragraph No. 4 is city court.

Chattanooga’s ordinances create a net without a hole in it. Rules in other cities are spotty, hit and miss, or nonexistent. 

The point being drawn together here is this: Cities cannot enforce state law unless adopted in the city charter, as Chattanooga has done. If a state law provision under which you are charged is not adopted, your defense is that it cannot prosecute the charge out of the Tennessee code. (Implicitly, you are saying, it can charge only under the city code, as officer authority is municipal and civil.)

Cities prosecute often travelers from outside their boundaries. Many times their prosecutions are improper, insufficient and without authority. A largely unknown defense against traffic violation on the three points above is a law that forbids such prosecutions of people foreign to the city corporation.

Little known legal shield for visitors

Note that when you travel on a state road as someone “operating a motor vehicle” (commercially) that you are exercising an “exclusive state privilege” and no tax for such a privilege “under any guise or shape” shall be levied against a party from outside the city.

The licensing as a privilege of the driving of any motor driven vehicle upon the roads, streets or other highways of the state is declared an exclusive state privilege and no tax for such privilege under any guise or shape shall hereafter be assessed, levied or collected by any municipality of the state.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 6-55-501 (emphasis added)

In other words, you cannot be stopped traveling through a city or town and be charged with “driving on an expired tag” or “driving on revoked.” Both are proofs of a tax paid, and are a valuable signal in tax enforcement. Proof of payment paid for one is the what Chattanooga ordinance calls the “registration plate,” so-called “license plate,” or the “valid” piece of high-tech plastic that is the driver license..

The city cop cannot by city authority administer the “exclusive state privilege” of “driving *** any motor vehicle” that is being used by man or woman. The law has in view the driver license; that is state-issued.

An important case makes clear that cities that impose punitive fines face the $50 limit in the state constitution.

The primary issue presented by these consolidated cases is whether Article VI, section 14 of the Tennessee Constitution, which prohibits the laying of fines in excess of fifty dollars unless assessed by a jury, applies to proceedings for the violation of a municipal ordinance. We hold that Article VI, section 14 does apply to such proceedings when either the intended purpose or the actual purpose or effect of the monetary assessment is to serve as a punitive measure. To the extent that O’Dell v. City of Knoxville, 54 Tenn.App. 59, 388 S.W.2d 150 (1964), would compel a contrary conclusion, it is expressly overruled.

We further hold that the assessment imposed by the Chattanooga City Court in City of Chattanooga v. Davis was punitive in its intended purpose and therefore subject to constitutional limitation. As for the assessments imposed in Barrett v. Metropolitan Government, we hold that the actual purpose and effect of all these sanctions were to impose punishment for ordinance violations. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed as modified and explained below in Davis’s case, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed in Barrett’s case. Because no court, other than one of general jurisdiction, has been granted the authority to empanel a jury to determine facts or to impose punishment, we reduce each of the unlawful fines imposed in these cases to fifty dollars, the maximum assessment allowed under such circumstances by Article VI, section 14.

City of Chattanooga v. Davis, 54 S.W.3d 248, 251 (Tenn. 2001)

Chattanooga v. Davis is an important case indicating that municipal authority is not punitive, and not criminal. 

Since 2018 the city has been under Tennessee Transportation Administrative Notice, delineating the limits of state law on transportation and the rights of the people under the state constitution to travel and communicate apart from the state’s privilege enforcement system.

No contract with, delegation from state

This 20-page legal notice lets you fight back vs. illicit ‘traffic stops’ — sue for damages, have defense in your criminal case David show live 7A, repeating 6P weekdays


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