Nashville Home Studio Ban Goes to Tennessee Supreme Court

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
July 22, 2021 Updated: July 22, 2021

A home music studio owner in Nashville, Tennessee, is taking his long-running appeal of aggressive local zoning restrictions against home-based businesses to the Tennessee Supreme Court after the court recently agreed to hear his case.

The court decided on July 12 to hear the appeal from record producer Elijah “Lij” Shaw and hairstylist Pat Raynor, who sued the city in 2017 after it ordered their home businesses shuttered. The two plaintiffs are represented by the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

For years, Shaw, a Grammy Award-winning music producer, had run his Toy Box Studio recording business out of his Nashville home, but in 2015, he was served with a cease-and-desist letter from the local government that required him to stop receiving clients at his home, shutter his business-related YouTube channel, and remove information about his business from his website, or face financial penalties, as The Epoch Times previously reported in October 2019.

Raynor, who had a hair salon business in her home, also clashed with local officials and filed suit against the Nashville Metro government.

Nashville cited a rule that makes it unlawful to operate a home-based business that serves clients on-site. Shaw and Raynor argue that it’s unfair that other kinds of home businesses such as daycare centers are allowed to operate.

The plaintiffs argue that Nashville couldn’t demonstrate that anyone had actually been harmed by the business owners accommodating clients in their homes and that the local government lacked a legitimate interest to enforce the client visit ban. The client prohibition therefore wasn’t rational and contravened the Tennessee state constitution’s provision protecting an individual’s right to earn a living.

But the judge in the case, Anne C. Martin, of the Chancery Court of Davidson County, didn’t agree.

She ruled in 2019 in Shaw v. Nashville that the Metro government demonstrated a rational basis for the client prohibition. That prohibition “is an appropriate exercise of the Metro Council’s legislative authority and has a rational relationship to the public safety, health, morals, comfort, and welfare of the people of Nashville,” Martin wrote.

“There is a reason residential properties can only be used for commercial purposes in limited circumstances, and designating client/customer influx to a neighborhood as an area of particular concern is logical,” she wrote. The court “is not going to substitute its judgment for that of the Metro Council.”

The legal situation changed once the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, as Nashville temporarily repealed the on-site client law. But that temporary repeal runs out in 2023, and the two plaintiffs say the new law still treats them worse than other types of home-based businesses.

“Lij and Pat have a constitutional right to use their homes to earn an honest living,” Institute for Justice attorney Keith Diggs said in a statement. “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.”

“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,” Jason Coleman, general counsel and director of legal affairs for Beacon, said in the same statement.

“We look forward to the Court recognizing our clients’ rights to earn a living.”

Shaw and Raynor are anxious to resolve the dispute, according to a statement.

“My clients are my neighbors,” Raynor said. “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.”

“So many of us in Nashville need to work from home,” said 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.”

Nashville government spokeswoman Andrea Fanta told The Epoch Times, “We don’t have a comment at this time, but I appreciate you asking.”

Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.