The ACLU receives thousands of requests for legal assistance from individuals throughout the state. Because of limited resources we are unable to respond in detail to each one and we are only able to pursue a fraction of them. The ACLU only handles claims which involve violations of civil liberties and civil rights.
Before Submitting Your Request for Legal Assistance
Before submitting your complaint for review by the ACLU legal team, please carefully read ALL of the following information.
An Important Note About Legal Deadlines
All legal claims have deadlines, called statutes of limitation. The deadlines may be different depending on the type of claim, who violated your rights and which rights were violated. For some kinds of legal claims, you must file a claim with a government agency and complete their entire complaint process before you can sue. These agencies have their own deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable statute of limitations, you may be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court.
Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that the ACLU represents you, and will not stop the statute of limitations from running. Because of the time involved in reviewing complaints, please be careful when requesting assistance for an issue with an upcoming deadline. If you are facing an upcoming court date or similar deadline, you should continue to seek legal assistance elsewhere while we investigate your complaint.
The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult an attorney promptly to find out what deadlines may apply to your case. Please understand that unless and until the ACLU agrees to take your case, you are solely responsible for any and all statutes of limitations or other deadlines that might apply to your specific situation.
ACLU-TN Works on Tennessee Legal Matters Only
Our office handles civil liberties and civil rights matters arising in the state of Tennessee. If your issue takes place outside of Tennessee, please contact the ACLU office in that area. To find the address for the appropriate affiliate, please visit the national ACLU website.
Types of cases the ACLU generally DOES NOT accept
The ACLU is not a general legal services organization and we normally cannot provide emergency services. Unless there is a clear civil liberties violation, we generally do not accept:
- Employment-related cases, unless there is a significant First Amendment issue or discrimination-related matter;
- Cases about being denied public benefits such as worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits;
- Criminal cases;
- Family law cases (related to divorce, child custody, child support, etc);
- Environmental law cases;
- Landlord-Tenant cases;
- Property disputes;
- Tax problems; or
- Appeals of building code violations.
Types of cases we MAY ACCEPT if we have the resources
- Freedom of Speech and Press – This involves cases related to government censorship.
- A student suspended for writing a newspaper article critical of the principal
- A police officer disciplined for speaking out against police brutality
- A group required to pay for insurance and/or police protection in order to obtain a demonstration permit
- A student denied access to an educational LGBT website due to her school’s Internet filters
- Freedom of Religion – This involves both the right of individuals to practice their own religion and the separation of church and state. Schools and other public agencies cannot in any way promote or sponsor religion.
- An individual required to remove a religious head covering to enter a courtroom
- Students subjected to school-sponsored religious activities during the school day
- An employee required to participate in religious activities as a condition of employment
- Right to Privacy – This involves violations of our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
- Police search a person’s cell phone data without a warrant or exigent circumstances
- Law enforcement detains or “seizes” a person without reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime
- School personnel perform strip or cavity searches of students in school without reasonable grounds to suspect that the student possesses dangerous drugs or weapons
- Equal Protection/Discrimination – This involves your right to be protected from unlawful discrimination, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, or ability.
- A sheriff’s department with a pattern of targeting and arresting African-American individuals
- Public school students told they cannot begin a gay-straight alliance student club, though other non-curricular student clubs exist
- A public school system disciplining disabled students or students of color at a disproportionate rate
- A female employee denied access to office space for breastfeeding
- Due Process of Law – This involves your right to fair treatment whenever your property or liberty is at stake.
- A community group denied a permit by the police without the opportunity to appeal the decision
- A student expelled without a hearing and subsequent process to appeal the decision
- A man whose cash is confiscated by law enforcement during a traffic stop, without probable cause and without a citation being issued or an arrest being made
If You Are Already Represented by an Attorney
Our ethical obligations limit our ability to discuss legal issues with people who are represented by other lawyers. If you already have an attorney, please have your attorney contact us if she or he feels that a constitutional issue is present and would like our assistance.
Submitting a Legal Complaint
If you have read through all of the above and still feel that your case meets our criteria, you are now welcome to submit your complaint.
The best and fastest way to get help is by completing our online form.
We do not currently take intake by phone or email. In-person interviews are generally not possible, although translators and ASL signers can be arranged.
The online form is the preferred way for you to submit your complaint. If there is absolutely no way for you to submit your complaint online, please complete the printable complaint form and mail it to: ACLU-TN Intake, P.O. Box 120160, Nashville, TN 37212.
¿Puedo conseguir servicios en español en la ACLU?
Si necesita comunicarse con un hispanohablante puede escribirnos a la siguiente dirección: ACLU-TN Intake, P.O. Box 120160, Nashville, TN 37212.
What Happens After I File a Legal Complaint?
ACLU-TN’s Legal Program Assesses Your Complaint
The ACLU generally files cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between individual parties. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are:
- Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue?
- What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
- Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?
Please note that receipt of your complaint does not imply any agreement to undertake representation on your behalf. If your matter is urgent, please seek private counsel.
There are many cases of unfairness and injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive thousands of requests for help each year at this office alone. Therefore, we cannot accept many of the cases that fall within the guidelines discussed above.
When will I hear from ACLU-TN?
If we believe we can assist you, we will contact you for more information within ten business days.
If you do not hear from us within ten business days, we are unable to assist you at this time.
If your situation is time sensitive, please continue to look for help elsewhere while we review your complaint.
We cannot promise you that the information you provide will lead to ACLU assistance or that we will be able to respond to your specific complaint or represent you in a legal case concerning your complaint. If we do not take your case, it does not necessarily mean that we think it lacks legal merit.
Even if we do not take your case, you may still receive a request from the ACLU of Tennessee to use the information you have provided for legislative testimony or to share your story with the public.
What else should I do?
Please do not call ACLU-TN regarding the status of your complaint. We are unable to return such phone calls.
You may have a valid legal claim, even if the ACLU of Tennessee is not able to assist you. We encourage you to promptly consult a private attorney.
For more information on your rights and what you can do to protect yourself, please visit our Legal Resources page.