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Summary: Federal lawsuit challenging unconstitutional policies, practices, and acts of Sumner County, TN, various individuals, and its sheriff's department for violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Tennessee Constitution. 

Background: In September of 2019, Plaintiff Nick Ennis stopped at a local gas station in Sumner County, Tennessee. While fueling his pickup truck, two Sumner County Sheriff’s Department deputies observed a sticker on Ennis’s truck that depicted two rifles sandwiching the letters “u” and “c”, followed by the words “gun control”. When Ennis attempted to leave the station, the deputies initiated a traffic stop solely on the basis of the sticker displayed. As a result of the traffic stop, Ennis was cited with a violation for “the display of obscene or patently offensive . . . bumper stickers, window signs or other markings on or in a motor vehicle that are visible to other drivers.” The written basis of the citation was that the deputies “did observe said vehicle with window sticker depicting ‘FUCK Gun Control,’” which the officers described as an “Obscene Sticker.”

Plaintiffs: Nicholas Ennis, Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearms Policy Foundation

DefendantsCounty of Sumner, Tennessee; Sumner County Executive and County Mayor Anthony Holt (official capacity); Sumner County Sheriff Roy “Sonny” Weatherford (official capacity); Sumner County Sheriff officers Chris Sanford, Kyle Mahaney, Justin Downs, and Carl Edison (official and individual capacities)

Litigation Counsel: Raymond DiGuiseppe, Michael Sousa, UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh

Docket: M.D.Tenn. case no. 3:20-cv-00805 | CourtListener Docket

Relief Requested:

(a) Declaratory judgment that the policies, practices, and customs of Defendants at issue herein have violated and, unless and until judicially enjoined, pose a credible threat of continuing to violate the rights protected under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the counterpart rights to remain free of unreasonable search and seizure under the Tennessee Constitution Article 1, section 7, of Plaintiff Ennis, the members and supporters of Plaintiffs FPC and FPF, and all other similarly situated individuals who have engaged, are engaging, or seek to engage in forms of protected speech through the display on or in their motor vehicles of messages similar to message at issue here.

(b) Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against Defendants, all officers, employees, agents of Defendants, all persons acting in cooperation with Defendants or under the supervision, direction, or control of Defendants, from, directly or indirectly, continuing to enforce, authorizing, or permitting the enforcement of, or elsewise propagating, whether under the ostensible authority of T.C.A. §55-8-187 or otherwise, the policies, customs, and practices of effecting unreasonable searches and seizures based on the targeting for suppressing of displays on or in motor vehicles of protected speech similar to the protected speech at issue here.

(c) Declaratory judgment that the policies, practices, and customs of Defendants at issue herein have violated and, unless and until judicially enjoined, pose a credible threat of continuing to violate the rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the counterpart rights to free speech under the Tennessee Constitution Article 1, section 19, of Plaintiff Ennis, the members and supporters of Plaintiffs FPC and FPF, and all other similarly situated individuals who have engaged, are engaging, or seek to engage in forms of protected speech through the display on or in their motor vehicles of messages similar to message at issue here.

(d) Injunctive relief against each Defendant, all officers, employees, agents of each Defendant, all persons acting in cooperation with each Defendant or under the supervision, direction, or control of each Defendant, from, directly or indirectly, continuing to enforce, authorizing, or permitting the enforcement of, or elsewise propagating, whether under the ostensible authority of T.C.A. §55-8-187 or otherwise, the policies, customs, and practices of targeting for unconstitutional suppression displays on or in motor vehicles of protected speech similar to the protected speech at issue here.

(e) To that end, Plaintiffs request an order specifically declaring the vehicle window sticker that was the subject of Defendants’ enforcement action against Plaintiff Ennis be deemed constitutionally protected free speech, and thereby enjoining Defendants from enforcing any such policies, practices, or customs against Plaintiff Ennis on the basis of this sticker and others like it, such that he may display it without further risk of law enforcement action or criminal prosecution.

(f) Consistent with his duty as Sheriff of Sumner County, Plaintiffs request an order instructing Defendant Sheriff Weatherford to train his subordinate officers in the proper interpretation and enforcement of T.C.A. §55-8-187 as reasonably necessary to ensure that this law, and all related policies, customs, and practices of the SCSO, are applied in a manner consistent with the rights to remain to free of unreasonable search and seizure and to engage in protected speech as guaranteed under the federal and state Constitutions.

(g) An award of nominal damages against Defendant for the past deprivation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights as set forth in this Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

(h) Compensatory damages, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred by Plaintiff FPC and FPF in defending Plaintiff Ennis against the criminal citation and resulting prosecution.

(i) An award of their reasonable attorney fees, costs, and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and other applicable law.

(j) Such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.


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Key Events & Filings

2020-10-16: Defendants Reply

2020-9-18: Complaint

Related News Releases

2020-9-21: FPC, FPF Sue Sumner County, Tennessee and Sheriff Over “F**K Gun Control” Decal, Alleging First and Fourth Amendment Violations