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Election Dispute


CaseWilliam Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton et al

Issue:  What is the proper procedure for challenging a candidate’s residency qualifications?

Facts:  William McFarland and Michael Pemberton were the only candidates in a judicial election. An eligible voter filed a complaint with the local election commission challenging Pemberton’s eligibility, alleging he did not meet the residency requirement. The local election commission held a public hearing, and ultimately determined that Pemberton was eligible. After Pemberton won the election, McFarland filed this election challenge seeking to void the election results. The trial court dismissed McFarland’s claim as an untimely review of a quasi-judicial determination under Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-9-102. McFarland appealed.

Appellate Decision:  The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of McFarland’s challenge, holding that the commission’s ruling was a final, quasi-judicial determination, so McFarland should have filed a writ of certiorari as an “aggrieved party” pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-9-101.

Review Granted:  March 24, 2016.

Prediction:  The Supreme Court requested briefing on four separate issues: (1) whether the election commission had the authority to convene a hearing in the first place, (2) whether the commission’s determination was a quasi-judicial act subject to review under 27-9-101, (3) whether McFarland was an “aggrieved party” for purposes of seeking 27-9-101 review, and (4) whether the commission’s final determination now bars McFarland from filing an election contest pursuant to 2-17-101. Ben thinks the case will turn on the third issue, and that McFarland was not required to file for certiorari since he was not actually a “party” to the commission’s case, even though he likely could nonetheless have petitioned if he so desired.