NASHVILLE, Tenn.—On Monday, the Tennessee Supreme Court accepted the case of two Nashville home-based business owners who challenged the city’s prohibition on working from home. Record producer Lij Shaw and hairstylist Pat Raynor, represented by the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center of Tennessee, sued the city in 2017 after it shut down their businesses without any evidence the small businesses were harming the surrounding neighborhood. Now, after four years of litigation, the state’s highest court has accepted their appeal and agreed to hear their case.
“Lij and Pat have a constitutional right to use their homes to earn an honest living,” IJ Attorney Keith Diggs said. “By taking their case, we’re confident that the Tennessee Supreme Court will free Lij and Pat to live and work from their home, like so many other Americans.”
In the last two years, millions of Americans have adapted to working from home. But even before the pandemic, people like Lij Shaw and Pat Raynor started small businesses out of their home for a variety of reasons. Lij, who has lived in East Nashville for more than twenty years, has recorded nationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning performers such as John Oates, Tori Amos, Wilco and the Zac Brown Band. Lij is also a single father, so he invested thousands of dollars to convert his detached garage into a professional recording studio so he could work from home while raising his daughter.
Pat is a semi-retired cosmetologist. But after her husband Harold passed away in 2009, she undertook an expensive renovation of her garage to open up a state-approved one-chair hair salon – allowing her to continue to work and stay in the home she and Harold had bought together. Their experiences confirm that home-based businesses cost less to get off the ground, promote a healthy work-life balance, and create jobs that otherwise might not exist.
Responding to anonymous complaints, Nashville zoning inspectors told Lij and Pat they had to shut down. The city cited a law making it illegal to operate a home-based business that serves clients on-site. At the same time, the city allows other kinds of businesses that serve clients, like daycares or short-term rentals, to operate legally. It is this disparity that Lij and Pat are challenging.
The city admits that neither Lij nor Pat ever bothered their neighbors. They made no noise, and caused no traffic or parking problems. Indeed, Nashville does not even know who or why someone complained about Lij or Pat, since their enforcement system is based on anonymous complaints. And, as Nashville’s own inspectors testified, most complaints are made out of spite and don’t indicate any actual harm to the neighborhood.
During the height of the pandemic, Nashville temporarily repealed the on-site client law. But the temporary repeal expires in 2023 and the new law still treats Lij and Pat worse than other kinds of home-based businesses.
“My clients are my neighbors,” said Pat Raynor. “The city shut me down in 2013, even though I was operating under a state-approved shop license to cut hair in my home. I’ve been fighting for my rights ever since. I just want to be able to work from home under the same rules as everyone else does.”
“Beacon is extremely pleased that the Tennessee Supreme Court has accepted Lij and Pat’s appeal,” said Jason Coleman, General Counsel & Director of Legal Affairs for Beacon. “The pandemic has shown how important it is for all Tennesseans to have the option to work from home and how convenient it can be for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and their clients. We look forward to the Court recognizing our clients’ rights to earn a living.”
“So many of us in Nashville need to work from home,” said Lij Shaw. “I can run my studio under the city’s temporary rules, but those expire soon. It’s time for the courts to settle this once and for all.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court will hold an oral argument in this case later this year.