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Blind Vendors Have Priority in Tennessee Law; Law Applicable to Jails and Prisons

A Tennessee Court of Appeals held state law requires that blind vendors be given “priority in the establishment and operation of vending facilities on public property in this state.”  The holding affirms a trial court’s decision that required The Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) to comply with the law in providing prisoner commissary services.

WCDC contracted its prisoner commissary operations to a third party, which compelled the Department of Human Services (DHS) to exercise its authority under Tenn Code Ann. §71-4-501 to survey WCDC to determine the suitability of a blind vendor performing the service.  That law provides a “right of first refusal” to such vendors.

The DHS must make such a determination of public property that is new or for which “any existing contracts expire or are changed in any way.”  It determined WCDC must utilize a blind vendor and change its commissary software to accommodate the vendor.  WCDC challenged that ruling.

The appellate court rejected WCDC’s position that the law required an on-site manager or presence of some sort for it to be applicable.  The court further rejected WCDC’s current contract provides guards collect the forms from prisoners and distribute the commissary items to them.

The court further found WCDC is a “public property” that is applicable to the law’s provisions.  Considering these matters require a holding that DHS properly held WCDC must give blind operators first priority in the contract award.  Finally, WCDC was required to alter its commissary software to fit the blind vendors’ needs.  The trial court’s order was affirmed. 

See:  Graybeal  v. Tenn.  Dept of Human Services,  2009 Tenn App. Lexis 325.

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Related legal case

Graybeal v. Tenn. Dept of Human Services,