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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Ashburn, Melissa
Date of Material: 04/21/2003

Urban growth
Land use
Governmental tort liability

Planning Committee Issues

Reviewed Date: 07/27/2021
MTAS was asked to research the potential liabilities of a city with regard to subdivision development located outside the city boundaries that had initial approval of, and oversight from, planning commission.


April 21, 2003

Re: Subdivision issues

Dear Madam,

This letter is in response to your correspondence of April 14, concerning lingering issues relating to the above-referenced subdivision. The subdivision is located outside the city’s urban growth boundary. Although the Municipal Planning Commission initially accepted the contractor’s bonds over a period of several years during the construction, the Commission has now “divested” itself of authority over the project, and has returned the check the developer provided as a bond. Residents are concerned about drainage problems created by the developer, lack of sidewalks and condition of roads in the subdivision. You have asked if the city has any liability for these problems. In my opinion, the answer is “no.”

The Planning Commission, Commission members, and the City are immune from liability under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, codified at T.C.A. § 29-20-101 et seq. The Supreme Court has applied the Act to hold a planning commission harmless in Foley v. Hamilton, 659 S.W.2d 356 (Tenn. 1983). In Foley, subdivision lot owners brought suit against developers, the planning commission and the county for the maintenance of roads in the subdivision and damages. The Court determined that the roads had never been accepted by the county and the developer had a contractual duty to maintain the roads until such time as the roads were accepted by the county. The Court further found that, although the city planning commission had waived requirements for grading and compacting regulations for the subdivision, which lead to the problems complained of, the planning commission had no liability due to the Governmental Tort Liability Act.

The city also has no liability because the subdivision is located outside the current city boundaries and the urban growth boundary. In my opinion, it is the developer who must answer to these residents, as in the Foley case.

I hope this information is helpful. Thank you for consulting with MTAS.


Melissa A. Ashburn
Legal Consultant

Main Document(s):
file Planning Committee Issues public.doc