Gallaher v. Elam

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJanice M. Holder, J.
Citation104 S.W.3d 455
PartiesDee Ann Curtis GALLAHER v. Curtis J. ELAM.
Decision Date02 May 2003
104 S.W.3d 455
Dee Ann Curtis GALLAHER
v.
Curtis J. ELAM.
Supreme Court of Tennessee, at Knoxville.
January 8, 2003 Session.
May 2, 2003.

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Wayne Decatur Wykoff and Judith A. DePrisco, Knoxville, TN, for the Petitioner-Appellant, Dee Ann Curtis Gallaher.

L. Caesar Stair III and Margo J. Maxwell, Knoxville, TN, for the Respondent-Appellee, Curtis J. Elam.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; and Stuart F. Wilson-Patton, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, TN, for the Intervenor, State of Tennessee.

OPINION

JANICE M. HOLDER, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which FRANK F. DROWOTA, III, C.J., and E. RILEY ANDERSON, ADOLPHO A. BIRCH, JR., and WILLIAM M. BARKER, JJ., joined.


In this appeal, the appellant challenges the constitutionality of the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Support Guidelines ("the Guidelines"). The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's determination that chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines violates the equal protection provisions of the federal and state constitutions. We granted permission to appeal. After careful consideration, we conclude that: (1) chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines, which prohibits consideration of non-court-ordered child support in calculating child support, and chapter 1240-2-4-.03(2) of the Guidelines, which requires consideration only of the obligor's income in calculating child support, do not violate the equal protection and due process provisions of either the United States or Tennessee Constitutions; and (2) the promulgation of the Guidelines does not constitute an impermissible delegation of rulemaking authority by the General Assembly to the Department of Human Services.

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We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the cause for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

This appeal arises out of an award of child support to Dee Ann Curtis Gallaher ("Ms. Gallaher") for the benefit of Jacob Dylan Gallaher ("Jacob"), who was born on August 25, 1993. Jacob's birth was the result of an affair between Ms. Gallaher and Dr. Curtis J. Elam ("Dr. Elam"). Dr. Elam was married at the time of his romantic relationship with Ms. Gallaher and has remained married. Dr. Elam has three children of the marriage, all of whom were minors at the time of Jacob's birth.1

In January 1994, Ms. Gallaher filed a petition to establish Jacob's paternity in the Knox County Juvenile Court. In her petition, Ms. Gallaher identified Dr. Elam as Jacob's father. Dr. Elam requested blood tests, which showed a 99.76% probability that he is Jacob's biological father. An Agreed Judgment was entered on December 27, 1994, declaring Dr. Elam to be the father of Jacob and setting support for the child.

On March 21, 1996, Ms. Gallaher filed a Petition for Contempt against Dr. Elam alleging his failure to comply with the Agreed Judgment. She also requested an increase in child support. In response, Dr. Elam challenged the constitutionality of the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Support Guidelines. The Attorney General was properly notified of Dr. Elam's constitutional challenge.

The Knox County juvenile court held that chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines violates the equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions. It also held that the Guidelines violate due process and were issued pursuant to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. The court set child support based upon Ms. Gallaher's monthly expenses for Jacob. Ms. Gallaher and the State of Tennessee appealed.

A majority of the Court of Appeals agreed that chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines violates the equal protection provisions of the federal and state constitutions. The Court of Appeals did not reach the due process and separation of powers issues addressed by the trial court. Judge Herschel P. Franks dissented, stating that he would reverse the trial court's decision and enter judgment in accordance with the Guidelines. We granted review.

II. Standard of Review

In evaluating the constitutionality of a statute, we begin with the presumption that an act of the General Assembly is constitutional. See State v. Robinson, 29 S.W.3d 476, 479 (Tenn.2000); Riggs v. Burson, 941 S.W.2d 44, 51 (Tenn.1997). We must "indulge every presumption and resolve every doubt in favor of the statute's constitutionality." State v. Taylor, 70 S.W.3d 717, 721 (Tenn.2002); see also Riggs, 941 S.W.2d at 51; In re Burson, 909 S.W.2d 768, 775 (Tenn.1995). This presumption applies with even greater force when the facial constitutional validity of a statute is challenged. See In re Burson, 909 S.W.2d at 775.

The Guidelines have been held to have the force and effect of a legislative mandate. See Nash v. Mulle, 846 S.W.2d 803, 804 (Tenn.1993). Therefore, our analysis must begin with the presumption that the Guidelines and the statutes that permit their promulgation are constitutional. Due to the strong presumption that acts of the General Assembly are constitutional, the party attacking the constitutionality of a

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statute "must bear a heavy burden in establishing some constitutional infirmity of the Act in question." West v. Tenn. Hous. Dev. Agency, 512 S.W.2d 275, 279 (Tenn. 1974). Because this appeal presents questions of law, our review is de novo with no presumption of correctness given to the judgments of the lower courts. See Robinson, 29 S.W.3d at 480.

III. Analysis
A. Equal Protection

We have recognized that both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions guarantee citizens the equal protection of the laws. See, e.g., Robinson, 29 S.W.3d at 480. We have also recognized that article I, section 8 and article XI, section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution confer "essentially the same protection" as the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, despite the historical and linguistic differences between the equal protection provisions. State v. Tester, 879 S.W.2d 823, 827 (Tenn.1994) (quoting Tenn. Small Sch. Sys. v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139, 152 (Tenn.1993)). Consequently, this Court has adopted an analytical framework similar to that used by the United States Supreme Court in analyzing equal protection challenges. See Robinson, 29 S.W.3d at 481. Under this framework, one of three standards of scrutiny applies, depending upon the nature of the right asserted or the class of persons affected: (1) strict scrutiny; (2) heightened scrutiny; or (3) reduced scrutiny, applying the rational basis test. See id. Strict scrutiny applies when the classification at issue: (1) operates to the peculiar disadvantage of a suspect class; or (2) interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right. See id.

1. Deduction of Court — Ordered Support: Chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4)

Chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines provides that the amount of child support ordered pursuant to a previous order of child support for other children may be deducted in determining an obligor's net income.2 However,

[c]hildren of the obligor who are not included in a decree of child support shall not be considered for the purpose of reducing the obligor's net income or in calculating the guideline amount. In addition, these children should not be considered by the court as a reason for deviation unless they meet the requirements of Rule 1240-2-4-.04(4).

Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. ch. 1240-2-4.03(4). Chapter 1240-2-4-.04(4) allows deviation from the Guidelines as follows:

In instances of extreme economic hardship, such as cases involving extraordinary medical needs not covered by insurance or other extraordinary special needs for the child(ren) of the obligor's current family, [child(ren) living in the home with the obligor for whom the obligor is legally responsible] deviation from the guidelines may be considered in order to achieve equity between the parties when the court so finds.

The legislative classification Dr. Elam challenges is the class of obligors who have children for whom there are no orders of support. Dr. Elam argues that strict scrutiny should apply to this classification. We disagree. The strict scrutiny standard does not apply, as it neither operates to the peculiar disadvantage of a suspect

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class nor interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right.

A suspect class is one that has been "saddled with such disabilities, or subjected to such a history of purposeful unequal treatment, or relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian process." Robinson, 29 S.W.3d at 481 (quoting San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 28, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973)). The class of obligors Dr. Elam challenges fails to meet this definition and, therefore, is not a suspect class.

Chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines also does not impermissibly interfere with a fundamental right. We have recognized that a parent has a fundamental right to the care and custody of his or her children. See Keisling v. Keisling, 92 S.W.3d 374, 378 (Tenn.2002); Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W.2d 573, 578 (Tenn.1993). This interest, however, is distinct from the duty to support a child. In Tennessee, support obligations are mandatory, and a parent may be criminally prosecuted for failure to support. See Tenn.Code Ann. §§ 34-1-102 (2001 & Supp.2002); 39-15-101 (1997 and Supp.2002). Allocating a certain amount of financial support to one's children is a mandatory obligation, not a fundamental right. As such, parents have no fundamental right to allocate support to their children as they see fit.

Under chapter 1240-2-4-.03(4) of the Guidelines, the calculation of Dr. Elam's financial support for Jacob does not include consideration of the children living in his household because they are not subject to orders of...

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114 practice notes
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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • April 11, 2018
    ...constitutional validity courts ordinarily afford statutes, State v. Pickett, 211 S.W.3d 696, 700 (Tenn. 2007) (quoting Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn. 2003) ), the circumstances of this case lie somewhere between Johnson and Henderson but resemble slightly more closely those of......
  • State v. Ackerman, No. M2010–01979–CCA–R3–CD.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
    • July 13, 2012
    ...of the constitutionality of a statute “with the presumption that an act of the General Assembly is constitutional,” Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn.2003) (citing State v. Robinson, 29 S.W.3d 476, 479–80 (Tenn.2000); Riggs v. Burson, 941 S.W.2d 44, 51 (Tenn.1997)). Moreover, [397......
  • Nunn v. Tenn. Dep't of Corr., No. M2016–01518–COA–R3–CV
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Appeals
    • October 23, 2017
    ...Assembly is constitutional" and "resolve every doubt in favor of the statute's constitutionality." Gallaher v. Elam , 104 S.W.3d 455, 459–60 (Tenn. 2003) (quotation omitted). "Due to the strong presumption that acts of the General Assembly are constitutional, the party a......
  • McClay v. Airport Mgmt. Servs., LLC, No. M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • February 26, 2020
    ...further " ‘indulge every presumption and resolve every doubt in favor of the statute’s constitutionality.’ " Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn. 2003) (quoting State v. Taylor , 70 S.W.3d 717, 721 (Tenn. 2002) ). "This presumption applies with even greater force when......
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116 cases
  • State v. NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Co., No. M2010–01955–SC–R11–CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • March 28, 2013
    ...co-extensive with those of the United States Constitution. Gordon v. Greenview Hosp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d at 646 (citing Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 463 (Tenn.2003); Newton v. Cox, 878 S.W.2d 105, 110 (Tenn.1994)). Therefore, the reach of Tennessee's long-arm statutes cannot extend beyon......
  • State v. Ackerman, No. M2010–01979–CCA–R3–CD.
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
    • July 13, 2012
    ...of the constitutionality of a statute “with the presumption that an act of the General Assembly is constitutional,” Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn.2003) (citing State v. Robinson, 29 S.W.3d 476, 479–80 (Tenn.2000); Riggs v. Burson, 941 S.W.2d 44, 51 (Tenn.1997)). Moreover, [397......
  • State v. Minor, No. W2016-00348-SC-R11-CD
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • April 11, 2018
    ...constitutional validity courts ordinarily afford statutes, State v. Pickett, 211 S.W.3d 696, 700 (Tenn. 2007) (quoting Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn. 2003) ), the circumstances of this case lie somewhere between Johnson and Henderson but resemble slightly more closely those of......
  • In re Adoption of AMH, No. W2004-01225-COA-R3-PT (TN 11/23/2005), No. W2004-01225-COA-R3-PT.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 23, 2005
    ...of Safety, 987 S.W.2d 545, 550 (Tenn. 1999). In re Adoption of M.J.S., 44 S.W.3d 41, 61 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000); see also Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn. 2003); In re Adoption of Female Child, 42 S.W.3d 26, 31-32 (Tenn. The Hes assert that, since they have a fundamental right to ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Beliefs About Child Support Modification Following Remarriage and Subsequent Childbirth
    • United States
    • Family Relations Nbr. 58-1, February 2009
    • February 1, 2009
    ...Feltman, 434 N.W.2d 590 (S.D. 1989).Finch, J. (1987). The vignette technique in surveyresearch. Sociology,21, 105 – 114.Gallaher v. Elam, 104 S.W.3d 455 (Tenn. 2003).Ganong, L. H., & Coleman, M. (2006). Multiple seg-ment factorial designs. Journal of Marriage andFamily,68, 455 – 468.Garf‌in......

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