VOL. 133 | NO. 99 | Thursday, May 17, 2018
Chancery Court Rules Sale and Removal of Confederate Monuments Legal
By Bill Dries
Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled Wednesday that the sale and removal of Confederate monuments in December was legal. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
A Davidson County chancellor says a 2016 state law protecting Confederate monuments in public parks doesn’t apply to the Confederate monuments removed from two Memphis parks this past December.
The ruling Wednesday, May 16, by Nashville chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle in the case brought the Sons of Confederate Veterans against the city of Memphis and Memphis Greenspace dismisses the lawsuit and dissolves a temporary injunction that prevented the private nonprofit that bought the two city parks from the city from selling the statues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest and a bust of Confederate Capt. J. Harvey Mathes.
But Hobbs put in place a stay on the judgment through July 27 to allow the SCV to appeal the ruling. The stay is to be secured by a $5,000 bond posted by the SCV. If the organization does not appeal, the stay runs out July 27.
Lyle noted in her ruling that the Tennessee Legislature considered a proposal earlier this year that would have closed what some legislators regard as a loophole in the 2016 state law protecting Confederate monuments in public parks.
“In the 2016 Act which applies to this case there was no prohibition of a sale. The 2018 Amendment expands the Act and provides that no memorial may be sold,” Lyle ruled on the 2016 law in effect when the parks were sold and the monuments removed Dec. 20. “The December 2017 sale to the private nonprofit Greenspace converted the location of the Statues from public to private property. That conveyance was legal and valid under Tennessee Code Annotated section 12-2-302(1) … which authorizes municipalities to sell property to nonprofits.”
She also rejected arguments by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their attorney that the 2016 law should be interpreted to include the later wording of the 2018 act.
“This can not be done. The Court is not authorized to read provisions into the law that are not there,” she wrote. “The Court is not authorized to use later legislation to fill gaps in previous legislation. There simply was no prohibition in the 2016 Act which applies to this case which prevented the sale that occurred in December 2017 conveying the property and Statues to a private, nonprofit entity.”
Memphis Greenspace bought Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park – the locations of the three monuments – for $1,000 each from the city. And the dollar amount was a factor in Lyle issuing the earlier temporary injunction preventing the sale or disposal of the statues by Memphis Greenspace.
The SCS argued the low amount made the sale a pretext. But a later report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s office settled that matter, Lyle ruled.
“The Tennessee Comptroller has now issued a report commissioned by the Tennessee Legislature that the amount paid was not a sham or irregular,” she wrote. “The report quotes the Memphis Code of Ordinances section 2-16-1(G)(1)(c) which authorizes the city real estate manager to convey or dispose of city property at reduced or no cost to nonprofit organizations whose use of the property will be for the benefit of the community.”
All sides in the case were in Nashville Monday for oral arguments before the court took those under advisement pending the ruling Wednesday.