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Kingsport attorney asks state Supreme Court to hear case involving sale of AEP building

Matthew Lane • Feb 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A Kingsport attorney has asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear the case involving the sale of the old American Electric Power building by the city of Kingsport.

Tom Dossett sued the city in 2005 challenging the sale of the AEP building to veteran banker Lynn Shipley. Dossett claimed the city’s ordinance for disposing of surplus property was invalid and that two meetings to discuss the sale that were attended by two members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen were in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

In November 2006, Chancellor E.G. Moody dismissed the Open Meetings Act claim and found Dossett did not have standing to challenge the validity of the ordinance. Dossett appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which issued its ruling on Nov. 28, 2007, upholding Moody’s judgment.

Earlier this month, Dossett filed an application to the state Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling.

According to the application, Dossett is presenting three questions for the state Supreme Court to review:

•Whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s decision that Dossett lacked standing to sue the city.

•Whether the Court of Appeals erred in its ruling on the trial court’s failure to conduct a hearing to determine Dossett’s standing.

•Whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s decision to rule in favor of the city of Kingsport on the Open Meetings Act claim.

Dossett wrote in the application the Court of Appeals was in error in affirming summary judgment in a matter where the states of mind of witnesses was dispositive of the case before the trial court. Dossett wrote there should have been a hearing before the trial court so the demeanor of the witnesses could have been observed.

The city of Kingsport plans to file a response to Dossett’s application, opposing the request to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“I certainly don’t feel like he’ll win, but it’s his right to do that, and it just adds to our already enormous amount of legal fees,” Mayor Dennis Phillips said.

Over the past two years, Kingsport has spent $56,848 defending itself in the lawsuit, with much of the money (87 percent) going to pay former city attorney Joe May, who represents the city in the matter. This figure does not include the in-house expenses the city has incurred during the course of defending the lawsuit.

“It’s troublesome any time the city has to spend a lot of money fighting a case that’s very difficult. This case, we have a situation where even if Dossett won, there’s a remedy in the Sunshine Law — the BMA could just go back and do another meeting,” said City Manager John Campbell. “You’ve got to ask, why are we doing this? The property has already been sold. What’s going to be decided by any kind of change in the decision?

“It hurts anytime you see 50-some thousand dollars spent on the city’s side, not to mention (the city attorney’s) time and staff time.”

Dossett could not be reached for comment.

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