Tennessee Supreme Court denies appeal of ruling on sale of old AEP building

J. H. Osborne • Jun 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The end has come for Tom Dossett’s legal challenge of Kingsport’s sale of the former AEP building on Church Circle, City Attorney Mike Billingsley said Tuesday.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has denied Dossett’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling, Billingsley told the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

“It’s good news for us,” said Billingsley. “The city can move forward now. That concludes that litigation.”

Mayor Dennis Phillips agreed the news was good but lamented the city’s — and therefore the city taxpayers’ — estimated $100,000 cost of fighting Dossett’s challenge.

In January 2006 the city voted to approve the sale of the old AEP building to veteran banker Lynn Shipley for $800,000.

Dossett, a local attorney, sued the city challenging the sale of the building to Shipley — claiming 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 BMA 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 year, Dossett filed an application to the state Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling.

According to the application, Dossett was 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.

“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,” Phillips said at the time.

In February of this year, Kingsport had spent $56,848 over a two-year period defending itself in the lawsuit, with much of the money (87 percent) going to pay former city attorney Joe May, who represented the city in the matter. That figure does not include the in-house expenses the city has incurred during the course of defending the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, Phillips estimated the city’s total cost to be about $100,000.

In other business Tuesday, the BMA approved the city’s $172 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Aldermen Ken Marsh and Pat Shull cast “nay” votes in the 5-2 decision. Both said the BMA should have done more to try and trim the budget.

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