Washington County School System, Et Al. v. The City of Johnson City, Tennessee

Washington County School System, Et Al. v. The City of Johnson City, Tennessee
E2016-02583-SC-R11-CV

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court held in favor of the county, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that public policy considerations favored the county’s interpretation. Upon interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. After considering the statutory language, the statutory framework, and the legislative history, it adopted the interpretation of the statute advocated by the city. We agree with the Court of Appeals and hold in favor of the city.     

Authoring Judge: 
Justice Holly Kirby
Originating Judge: 
Chancellor E. G. Moody
Date Filed: 
Wednesday, May 8, 2019