Civil Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023

Ernest Falls et al. v. Mark Goins et al. (Voting Rights)

Style: Ernest Falls et al. v. Mark Goins et al.

TSC Docket Number: M2020-01510-SC-R11-CV

Court of Appeals Opinion:

Summary by the Court of Appeals:

This case concerns the restoration of voting rights of a Tennessee citizen who was convicted of a felony in Virginia and subsequently granted clemency by the Governor of Virginia. Because the voting applicant did not provide evidence that he paid outstanding court costs, restitution, and/or child support as is required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-29- 202, the election commission denied his application to vote. The voting applicant appealed the election commission’s decision to the circuit court. The circuit court upheld the election commission’s decision as valid. We agree with the trial court and affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Permission to Appeal Granted: June 9, 2022

Appellants’ Briefs Filed: July 11, 2022

Appellees’ Briefs Filed: August 10, 2022

Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed:

Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:

Amicus Briefs Permitted:  

Oral Argument Date: October 5, 2022

Link to Oral Argument Video:

Date of TSC Opinion: June 29, 2023

Opinion of the TSC:

Dissenting Opinion by Judge Lee:

TSC Summary of the Opinion:

In this appeal, we consider the interplay and applicability of two statutes that relate to suffrage rights of Tennessee residents previously convicted of infamous crimes in other states. Although the Tennessee Constitution recognizes the importance of the right of its residents to vote, the Constitution also allows the General Assembly to restrict the right of a person to vote “upon a conviction by a jury of some infamous crime, previously ascertained and declared by law, and judgment thereon by court of competent jurisdiction.” Tenn. Const. art. I, § 5. Ernest Falls, a resident of Tennessee since 2018, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Virginia in 1986, an infamous crime under the laws of Tennessee. In 2020, Mr. Falls was granted clemency in Virginia by then-Governor Ralph Northam. The grant of clemency reinstated Mr. Falls’ rights of citizenship in Virginia, including his right to vote. Subsequently, Mr. Falls attempted to register to vote in Grainger County, Tennessee, in June of 2020. The Grainger County Election Commission denied his restoration of voting rights request and cited “Incomplete/Insufficient Document(s)” as the reasoning for the denial. Mr. Falls and a co-plaintiff, who was left off the voter rolls under similar circumstances, filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, arguing that Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-19-143(3) requires the state to re-enfranchise persons convicted of out-of-state infamous crimes as soon as said persons are “pardoned or restored to the rights of citizenship by the governor or other appropriate authority of such other state.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-143(3) (2014). Respondents, three public employees sued in their official capacity, countered that Mr. Falls also is required to comply with requirements set forth in another statutory provision, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-29-202, which requires that persons convicted of infamous crimes pay outstanding court costs, restitution, and child support obligations before they can be re-enfranchised. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-29-202 (2018). The Chancery Court granted summary judgment in favor of the three state officials, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment with Mr. Falls acting as the sole remaining plaintiff. Like the Court of Appeals, we affirm the grant of summary judgment 06/29/2023 – 2 – and conclude that, in order to regain the right of suffrage in Tennessee, Mr. Falls and other similarly situated individuals must comply with both section 2-19-143(3) and the additional requirements set forth in section 40-29-202.


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