Certiorari

Writ of Certiorari, Generally

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

Charter Communications Operating, LLC v. Madison County, Tennessee, No. W2022-01025-COA-R3-CV, p. 12-14 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 26, 2023). 

“The scope of review afforded by a common-law writ of certiorari is extremely limited.” Leonard Plating Co. v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 213 S.W.3d 898, 903 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (citing Willis v. Tenn. Dep’t of Corr., 113 S.W.3d 706, 712 (Tenn. 2003); Lafferty v. City of Winchester, 46 S.W.3d 752, 758 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000)). Courts reviewing a decision under a common law writ of certiorari are employing a “limited and deferential standard.” Sporting Club of Tenn., Inc. v. Marshall Cnty. Tenn. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, No. M2021-01361-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 4349796, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 20, 2022). The Tennessee Supreme Court has described the common law writ of certiorari and its scope of review as follows:

A common-law writ of certiorari is an extraordinary judicial remedy. State v. Lane, 254 S.W.3d 349, 355 (Tenn. 2008) (quoting Robinson v. Clement, 65 S.W.3d 632, 635 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001)). The scope of the judicial review available through a common-law writ is quite limited. Harding Acad. v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 222 S.W.3d 359, 363 (Tenn. 2007); Leonard Plating Co. v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 213 S.W.3d 898, 903 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006).

The reasons for the writ’s limitations on the court’s ability to review an agency’s decision are particularly important in cases such as this one. These limitations are grounded in the doctrine of separation of powers found in Article II, Sections 1 and 2 of the Tennessee Constitution. See Ben H. Cantrell, Review of Administrative Decisions By Writ of Certiorari in Tennessee, 4 Mem. St. U. L. Rev. 19, 21 (1973). The General Assembly cannot require the Judiciary to perform functions that are not essentially judicial. In re Cumberland Power Co., 147 Tenn. 504, 508, 249 S.W. 818, 819 (1923) (quoting Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 352, 31 S.Ct. 250, 55 L.Ed. 246 (1911)). Likewise, the Judiciary may not, on its own initiative, undertake to perform functions that are not necessarily judicial and that have been assigned to other branches of government. See Hoover Motor Exp. Co. v. Railroad & Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 195 Tenn. 593, 602, 605-06, 261 S.W.2d 233, 237-38 (1953). Thus, providing the limited sort of judicial review available under a common-law writ of certiorari will guard against the risk that the courts might undertake to exercise power that does not belong to them.

The judicial review available under a common-law writ of certiorari is limited to determining whether the entity whose decision is being reviewed (1) exceeded its jurisdiction, (2) followed an unlawful procedure, (3) acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently, or (4) acted without material evidence to support its decision. Harding Acad. v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 222 S.W.3d at 363; see also Stewart v. Schofield, 368 S.W.3d 457, 463 (Tenn. 2012). We have explicitly approved the use of the common-law writ of certiorari to provide judicial relief from (1) fundamentally illegal rulings, (2) proceedings inconsistent with essential legal requirements, (3) proceedings that effectively deny parties their day in court, (4) decisions that are beyond the decision-maker’s authority, and (5) decisions that involve plain and palpable abuses of discretion. State v. Lane, 254 S.W.3d at 355 (quoting Willis v. Tennessee Dep’t of Corr., 113 S.W.3d 706, 712 (Tenn. 2003)). However, we have also held that:

the common law-writ [of certiorari] … may not be resorted to for the correction of technical or formal errors, not affecting jurisdiction or power, or for the correction of defects that are not radical, amounting to an illegality that is fundamental, as distinguished from an irregularity.

State ex rel. McMorrow v. Hunt, 137 Tenn. 243, 249, 192 S.W. 931, 933 – 13 –(1917).

A common-law writ of certiorari proceeding does not empower the courts to redetermine the facts found by the entity whose decision is being reviewed. Tennessee Waste Movers, Inc. v. Loudon Cnty., 160 S.W.3d 517, 520 n.2 (Tenn. 2005); Cooper v. Williamson Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 746 S.W.2d 176, 179 (Tenn. 1987). Accordingly, we have repeatedly cautioned that a common-law writ of certiorari does not authorize a reviewing court to evaluate the intrinsic correctness of a governmental entity’s decision. See, e.g., Stewart v. Schofield, 368 S.W.3d at 465; Arnold v. Tennessee Bd. of Paroles, 956 S.W.2d 478, 480 (Tenn. 1997). Similarly, we have noted that reviewing courts may not reweigh the evidence or substitute their judgment for the judgment of the entity whose decision is being reviewed. See, e.g., State v. Lane, 254 S.W.3d at 355 (quoting Robinson v. Clement, 65 S.W.3d at 635); Harding Acad. v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 222 S.W.3d at 363.

Heyne v. Metro. Nashville Bd. of Pub. Educ., 380 S.W.3d 715, 728-29 (Tenn. 2012).

Foehring v. Monteagle Regional Planning Commission, No. M2022-00916-COA-R3-CV, p. 3 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 11, 2023). 

In Leonard Plating Company v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, we discussed the limited and deferential standard applied to decisions reviewed under a common law writ of certiorari as follows:

The scope of review afforded by a common-law writ of certiorari is extremely limited. Reviewing courts may grant relief only when the board or agency whose decision is being reviewed has exceeded its jurisdiction or has acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently.

Review under a common-law writ of certiorari does not extend to a redetermination of the facts found by the board or agency whose decision is being reviewed. The courts may not (1) inquire into the intrinsic correctness of the decision, (2) reweigh the evidence, or (3) substitute their judgment for that of the board or agency. However, they may review the record solely to determine whether it contains any material evidence to support the decision because a decision without evidentiary support is an arbitrary one.

Ascertaining whether the record contains material evidence to support the board’s or agency’s decision is a question of law. For the purpose of this inquiry, “material evidence” is relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a rational conclusion. The amount of material evidence required to support a board’s or agency’s decision must exceed a scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance of the evidence.

Leonard Plating Co. v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson Cnty., 213 S.W.3d 898, 903-04 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (citations and footnotes omitted).

In re Autumn D., No. E2022-00033-COA-R3-CV, p. 4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2022). 

Judicial review of a common-law writ of certiorari is limited to “determining whether the [court] whose decision is being reviewed,” in this case the Juvenile Court for the City of Bristol, “(1) exceeded its jurisdiction, (2) followed an unlawful procedure, (3) acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently, or (4) acted without material evidence to support its decision.” Heyne v. Metro. Nashville Bd. of Pub. Educ., 380 S.W.3d 715, 729 (Tenn. 2012).

Our review of a writ of certiorari is limited to questions of law, and we may not redetermine the facts. See id. This court reviews questions of law de novo with no presumption of correctness. See In re Carrington H., 483 S.W.3d 507, 524 (Tenn. 2016). Because the scope of a writ of certiorari deals with questions of law, specifically, whether a court “has exceeded the jurisdiction conferred” or “is acting illegally,” we review the decision de novo with no presumption of correctness. Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-8-101.

 

Sporting Club of Tennessee, Inc. v. Marshall County Tennessee Board of Zoning Appeals, No. M2021-01361-COA-R3-CV, p. 9 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 20, 2022). 

In Leonard Plating Company v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, we discussed the limited and deferential standard applied to decisions reviewed under a common law writ of certiorari as follows:

The scope of review afforded by a common-law writ of certiorari is extremely limited. Reviewing courts may grant relief only when the board or agency whose decision is being reviewed has exceeded its jurisdiction or has acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently.

Review under a common-law writ of certiorari does not extend to a redetermination of the facts found by the board or agency whose decision is being reviewed. The courts may not (1) inquire into the intrinsic correctness of the decision, (2) reweigh the evidence, or (3) substitute their judgment for that of the board or agency. However, they may review the record solely to determine whether it contains any material evidence to support the decision because a decision without evidentiary support is an arbitrary one.

Ascertaining whether the record contains material evidence to support the board’s or agency’s decision is a question of law. For the purpose of this inquiry, “material evidence” is relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a rational conclusion. The amount of material evidence required to support a board’s or agency’s decision must exceed a scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance of the evidence.

Leonard Plating Co. v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson Cnty., 213 S.W.3d 898, 903-04 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (citations and footnotes omitted).

 

Luna v. Dickson County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00543-COA-R3-CV, 3-4  (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2022).

This Court has recently explained that a BZA’s decision is reviewed under the common law writ of certiorari standard:

“The vehicle for reviewing decisions of local boards of zoning appeals is through the common law writ of certiorari. Hoover, Inc. v. Metro. Bd. of Zoning Appeals of Davidson Cty., 955 S.W.2d 52, 54 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997) (citing McCallen v. City of Memphis, 786 S.W.2d 633, 639 (Tenn. 1990)). Under the common law writ of certiorari, the reviewing court must examine whether the municipal agency acted illegally, arbitrarily, fraudulently, or in excess of its jurisdiction. McCallen, 786 S.W.2d at 638. In doing so, the court determines “whether there is any material evidence that supports the action of the administrative agency.” Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. of Nashville, Inc. v. Metro. Bd. of Health for Nashville & Davidson Cty., 934 S.W.2d 40, 49 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996) (citing Lansden v. Tucker, 321 S.W.2d 795 (Tenn. 1959)). Courts must not “reweigh the evidence” or “scrutinize the intrinsic correctness of the decision,” but independently review the record to “determine whether it contains ‘such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a rational conclusion.’” Lafferty v. City of Winchester, 46 S.W.3d 752, 759 [(Tenn. Ct. App. 2000)] (quoting Hedgepath v. Norton, 839 S.W.2d 416, 421 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992)). A challenge to the evidentiary foundation for a local zoning decision presents a question of law, which we review de novo with no presumption of correctness. Id. at 759. This Court’s review of the evidence on appeal is no broader or more comprehensive than the trial court’s review. Watts v. Civil Serv. Bd. for Columbia, 606 S.W.2d 274, 277 (Tenn. 1980).”

Venture Holdings, LLC v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 585 S.W.3d 409, 416-17 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2019); see also Northshore Corridor Ass’n v. Knox Cty., 633 S.W.3d 561, 569 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2021). Importantly, “[j]udicial review under the common law writ does not involve judicial review of the correctness of the lower tribunal’s decision.” Brunetti v. Bd. of Zoning Appeals of Williamson Cty., No. 01A01-9803-CV00120, 1999 WL 802725, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 7, 1999) (citing Powell v. Parole Eligibility Rev. Bd., 879 S.W.2d 871, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994)); see also Capps v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cty., No. M2007-01013-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 5427972, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 31, 2008) (quoting Lafferty, 46 S.W.3d at 758) (“‘In recognition of the policy that favors permitting the community decisionmakers closest to the events to make the decision, the courts refrain from substituting their judgments for the broad discretionary power of the local governmental body.”’).

 

Gray v. Dickson County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00545-COA-R3-CV  and No. M2021-00546-COA-R3-CV, p. 5 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2022).

When reviewing a certiorari proceeding, appellate courts apply a limited standard of review. State ex rel. Moore & Assocs., Inc. v. West, 246 S.W.3d 569, 574 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). Specifically, judicial review of a common-law writ of certiorari consists of determining whether “that decision maker exceeded its jurisdiction, followed an unlawful procedure, acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently, or acted without material evidence
to support its decision.” Id. (citing Petition of Gant, 937 S.W.2d 842, 844-45 (Tenn. 1996)); see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-8-101. “At the risk of oversimplification, one may say that it is not the correctness of the decision that is subject to judicial review, but the manner in which the decision is reached.” Powell v. Parole Eligibility Rev. Bd., 879 S.W.2d 871, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994).

 

Turnbull Preservation Group, L.L.C. v. Dickson County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00542-COA-R3-CV, p. 4 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2022).

Judicial review of an action by an administrative body, such as the Dickson County Planning Commission, is accomplished through the common law writ of certiorari. See Roten v. City of Spring Hill, No. M2008-02087-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 2632778, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 26, 2009); B & B Enters. of Wilson Cty., LLC v. City of Lebanon, No. M2003-00267-COA-R3-CV, 2004 WL 2916141, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2004). When reviewing a certiorari proceeding, appellate courts apply a very limited standard of review. State ex rel. Moore & Assocs., Inc. v. West, 246 S.W.3d 569, 574 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). Specifically, judicial review of a common-law writ of certiorari consists of determining whether “the decision maker exceeded its jurisdiction, followed an unlawful procedure, acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently, or acted without material evidence to support its decision.” Id. (citing Petition of Gant, 937 S.W.2d 842, 844-45 (Tenn. 1996)); see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-8-101. “At the risk of oversimplification, one may say that it is not the correctness of the decision that is subject to judicial review, but the
manner in which the decision is reached.” Powell v. Parole Eligibility Rev. Bd., 879 S.W.2d 871, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994).

 

Crawley v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., p. 5 No. M2021-00210-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 5, 2022)

“‘Common law certiorari is available where the court reviews an administrative decision in which that agency is acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity.’” Father Ryan High Sch., Inc. v. City of Oak Hill, 774 S.W.2d 184, 188 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988) (quoting Davison v. Carr, 659 S.W.2d 361, 363 (Tenn. 1983)). Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-101 provides that “[a]nyone who may be aggrieved by any final order or judgment of any board or commission functioning under the laws of this state may have the order or judgment reviewed by the courts,” and § 27-8-101 states:

The writ of certiorari may be granted whenever authorized by law, and also in all cases where an inferior tribunal, board, or officer exercising judicial functions has exceeded the jurisdiction conferred or is acting illegally, when, in the judgment of the court, there is no other plain, speedy, or adequate remedy.

The administrative decision of the Planning Commission is “presumed to be valid and a heavy burden of proof rests upon the shoulders of the party who challenges the action.” McCallen v. City of Memphis, 786 S.W.2d 633, 641 (Tenn. 1990). Under the common law writ of certiorari, the reviewing court must examine whether the municipal agency acted illegally, arbitrarily, fraudulently, or in excess of its jurisdiction. Id. at 638. In doing so, the court determines “whether there is any material evidence that supports the action of the administrative agency.” Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. of Nashville, Inc. v. Metro. Bd. of Health for Nashville & Davidson Cty., 934 S.W.2d 40, 49 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996) (citing Lansden v. Tucker, 204 Tenn. 388, 321 S.W.2d 795, 797 (Tenn. 1959)). Courts must not “reweigh the evidence” or “scrutinize the intrinsic correctness of the decision,” but must independently review the record to “determine whether it contains ‘such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a rational conclusion.’” Lafferty v. City of Winchester, 46 S.W.3d 752, 759 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (quoting Hedgepath v. Norton, 839 S.W.2d 416, 421 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992)). A challenge to the evidentiary foundation for a local zoning decision presents a question of law, which we review de novo with no presumption of correctness. Id. This Court’s review of the evidence on appeal “is no broader or more comprehensive” than the trial court’s review. Watts v. Civil Serv. Bd. for Columbia, 606 S.W.2d 274, 277 (Tenn. 1980).

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