Newsom v. Tenn. Republican Party, M2022-00735-SC-R10-CV

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJEFFREY S. BIVINS, JUSTICE
PartiesROBERT STARBUCK NEWSOM a/k/a ROBBY STARBUCK v. TENNESSEE REPUBLICAN PARTY, ET AL.
Decision Date10 June 2022
Docket NumberM2022-00735-SC-R10-CV

ROBERT STARBUCK NEWSOM a/k/a ROBBY STARBUCK
v.

TENNESSEE REPUBLICAN PARTY, ET AL.

No. M2022-00735-SC-R10-CV

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Nashville

June 10, 2022


Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 22-0735-IV Russell T. Perkins, Chancellor

Plaintiff Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck sought to be a Republican candidate for Tennessee's 5th Congressional District for the United States House of Representatives. The Tennessee Republican Party and the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee ("Defendants"), acting under relevant statutory authority and party rules, determined that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican and informed the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections of the decision to exclude Mr. Starbuck from the ballot. Mr. Starbuck initially sought relief in federal court and failed to obtain injunctive relief. After voluntarily dismissing his federal action, Mr. Starbuck filed a complaint in the Davidson County Chancery Court alleging, among other things, that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act by determining in a non-public meeting that he was not a bona fide Republican. The chancery court granted Mr. Starbuck a temporary injunction on the basis that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and ordered that Mr. Starbuck be restored to the ballot. Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 10. This Court assumed jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 48 and granted the application for extraordinary appeal. We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because the Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not apply to Defendants. We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-3-201(d) Appeal; Judgment of the Trial Court Vacated; Case Remanded to the Trial Court

Eric G. Osborne, Lauren Z. Curry, Christopher C. Sabis, Mark Alexander Carver, Micah N. Bradley, Nashville, Tennessee, for the plaintiff Robby Starbuck.

1

Joshua A. Mullen, Nashville, Tennessee, for the defendants Tennessee Republican Party and Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Janet M. Kleinfelter, Deputy Attorney General for non-party petitioners Tre Hargett, in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, and Mark Goins, in his official capacity as Tennessee Coordinator of Elections.

Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roger A. Page, C.J., and Sharon G. Lee, Holly Kirby, and Sarah K. Campbell, JJ., joined.

OPINION

JEFFREY S. BIVINS, JUSTICE

Factual and Procedural Background

Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck ("Mr. Starbuck") filed a nominating petition seeking to be placed on the ballot for the Republican primary for Tennessee's 5th Congressional District for the United States House of Representatives. The Tennessee Republican Party, through the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee ("TRP SEC"), subsequently determined, pursuant to its authority under Tennessee Code Annotated sections 2-5-204 and 2-13-104, that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican, and, as a result, would not appear on the ballot.

Mr. Starbuck initially filed an action in federal court but voluntarily dismissed his claims after failing to obtain any injunctive relief. See Newsom v. Golden, No. 3:22-CV-00318, 2022 WL 1500860 (M.D. Tenn. May 12, 2022). Mr. Starbuck then filed a complaint in the Davidson County Chancery Court against the Tennessee Republican Party and the TRP SEC for declaratory and injunctive relief, along with a motion for a temporary injunction. Mr. Starbuck alleged that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act ("TOMA"), Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-101 to -111 (2016 & Supp. 20201), by determining in a non-public meeting that he is not a bona fide Republican.[1] On the evening of June 3, 2022, the trial court issued an order finding that Defendants had violated TOMA and ordering that Mr. Starbuck be restored to the ballot as a Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District.

On June 6, 2022, Defendants sought review of the trial court's June 3, 2022 order by filing in the Court of Appeals an application for extraordinary appeal pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Defendants requested expedited review and also filed an emergency motion to stay the injunction pending appeal pursuant to Rule 7 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Court of Appeals ordered Mr. Starbuck to file an answer to the application for extraordinary appeal and motion for stay, which he timely filed on June 7, 2022.

2

Also on June 7, 2022, non-parties Tre Hargett, in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, and Mark Goins, in his official capacity as Coordinator of Elections for the State of Tennessee (collectively "the State Officials"), filed in the Court of Appeals a petition for a common law writ of certiorari and supersedeas, requesting that the Court of Appeals vacate the trial court's June 3, 2022 order.

That same day, June 7, 2022, Defendants filed in this Court a motion pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 48 asking this Court to assume jurisdiction. The following day, Mr. Starbuck filed a response in opposition to the motion. On June 8, 2022, this Court granted Defendants' motion to assume jurisdiction over the application for extraordinary appeal, motion to stay, and the State Officials' petition.[2] This Court also granted Defendants' request for expedited review but allowed Mr. Starbuck the opportunity to file a response to the State Officials' petition. After this Court assumed jurisdiction, the State Officials filed an amended petition for a common law writ of certiorari and supersedeas in this Court. On June 9, 2022, Mr. Starbuck timely filed a response to the State Officials' petition.

On June 9, 2022, this Court granted the application for extraordinary appeal and ordered that the matter be submitted to the Court for decision without further briefing or oral argument. We now issue our decision.

Standard of Review

"The trial court's decision to grant the plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction is discretionary and is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard." Fisher v. Hargett, 604 S.W.3d 381, 395 (Tenn. 2020). "A court abuses its discretion when it causes an injustice to the party challenging the decision by (1) applying an incorrect legal standard, (2) reaching an illogical or unreasonable decision, or (3) basing its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence." Id. (quoting Harmon v. Hickman Cmty. Healthcare Servs., Inc., 594 S.W.3d 297, 305-06 (Tenn. 2020)). "Whether the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard is a question of law and is reviewed de novo with no...

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