Current Pending Cases – Civil

Leah Gilliam v. David Gerregano, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue et al. (Speech / License Plates)

Style: Leah Gilliam v. David Gerregano, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue et al.

TSC Docket Number: M2022-00083-SC-R11-CV

Court of Appeals Opinion: https://tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OpinionsPDFVersion/Majority%20Opinion%202022-083-COA_0.pdf

Summary by the Court of Appeals:

Citizens of Tennessee may apply to the Tennessee Department of Revenue (the “Department”) for license plates featuring unique, personalized messages. Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-4-210(d)(2) provides that “[t]he commissioner shall refuse to issue any combination of letters, numbers or positions that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that are misleading.” After her personalized plate featuring the message “69PWNDU” was revoked by the Department, Leah Gilliam (“Plaintiff”) filed suit against David Gerregano (the “Commissioner”), commissioner of the Department, as well as the then-Attorney General and Reporter. Plaintiff alleged various constitutional violations including violations of her First Amendment right to Free Speech. The Department and the State of Tennessee (together, the “State”) responded, asserting, inter alia, that the First Amendment does not apply to personalized plate configurations because they are government speech. The lower court, a special three judge panel sitting in Davidson County, agreed with the State. Plaintiff appeals, and we reverse, holding that the personalized alphanumeric configurations on vanity license plates are private, not government, speech. We affirm, however, the panel’s decision not to assess discovery sanctions against the State. Plaintiff’s other constitutional claims are pretermitted and must be evaluated on remand because the panel did not consider any issues other than government speech. This case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Permission to Appeal Granted: November 21, 2023

Appellants’ Briefs Filed: January 19, 2024

Appellees’ Briefs Filed: 

Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed:

Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:

Amicus Briefs Permitted:  

Oral Argument Date: April 3, 2024

Link to Oral Argument Video:  

Date of TSC Opinion:  

Opinion of the TSC: 

TSC Summary of the Opinion:

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