Tennessee Supreme Court Rules that Metro Charter Allows Davidson County Sheriff to Perform Immigration Enforcement Duties

October 4, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the agreement between the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”), through the Davidson County Sheriff, and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) does not violate the Metro Charter or other state law.

In 2009, Metro authorized the Sheriff to enter into an agreement with ICE that allowed designated Sheriff’s officers to perform certain immigration officer duties after being trained and certified by ICE. Those duties included interrogating any person believed to be an alien as to his right to be, or remain, in the United States; processing any removable alien or those aliens who have been arrested for violating a federal, state or local offense for immigration violations; serving arrest warrants for immigration violations; and detaining and transporting arrested aliens subject to removal to ICE-approved detention facilities.

The agreement was challenged by plaintiffs Daniel Renteria-Villegas, David Ernesto Gutierrez-Turcios and Rosa Landaverde in a lawsuit seeking compensatory damages and injunctive relief filed in the United States District Court in Nashville against Metro and ICE. Renteria-Villegas and Gutierrez-Turcios alleged that Sherriff’s officers arrested and wrongfully interrogated and detained them while the officers investigated their immigration status and Landaverde alleged that removal proceedings were instituted against her son after he was processed by Sheriff’s officers pursuant to the agreement. The plaintiffs argued that provisions of the Metro Charter precluded the Sheriff’s office from performing the law enforcement duties in the agreement with ICE because, under the Charter, those duties are solely the responsibility of the Chief of Police. The United States District Court certified a question of law regarding the Sheriff’s authority to enter into the agreement to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, answered the certified question by ruling that neither the Charter nor other state law precludes the Sheriff from performing immigration enforcement duties. Metro had the statutory authority to contract with ICE and authorized the actions of the Sheriff. While the Charter designates the Police Chief as the “principal conservator of the peace,” the Charter does not provide that the Chief is the only conservator of the peace for the Metro government and the Sheriff retained some law enforcement functions under the Charter.

To read the Daniel Renteria-Villegas et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/renteria-villegasdanielopn.pdf.