Case Details


Tennessee Attorney General May Properly Represent State Agencies With Adverse Interests.

Filing State



Tennessee Court of Appeals




State ex rel. Comm’r of Transportation v. Medicine Bird Black Bear White Eagle, 63 S.W.3d 734, 773 (Tn. Ct. App. 2001).


The Attorney General may properly represent two agencies with adverse positions, as long as the Attorney General himself is not a party. Rules of Professional Responsibility do not require disqualification of the Attorney General.

Case Description

The Tennessee Department of Transportation sought to widen a road and in the process discovered two ancient graves. The Department filed suit seeking permission to relocate the human remains found on the property and to discontinue the use of the property as a burial ground. The Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, among others, intervened to oppose the relocation of the graves. The trial court disqualified the Attorney General from representing the Commission and the court of appeals reversed. The Attorney General must, by statute, provide legal representation to all departments and agencies of state government. Unlike the conflict-of-interest rules governing the conduct of lawyers representing private clients, however, the Attorney General is not necessarily prohibited from representing governmental clients whose interests may be adverse to each other. The majority rule is that the Attorney General may represent adverse state agencies in intragovernmental disputes so long as the Attorney General is not an actual party to the litigation. Here, the Attorney General owes the same duty of loyalty and professionalism to the Commission (administered by the Department of Environment and Conservation) as to the Department of Transportation. Thus, the Attorney General may properly represent both the Department and the Commission even though their interests are adverse. The Code of Professional Responsibility does not require the disqualification of the Attorney General under these circumstances.