The City of Lenoir City vs. David Divelbiss


Dale Hurst, (l) Lenoir City Administrator, Shannon Littleton, (m) Lenoir City Attorney & Mayor Matt Brookshire, (r).

Protecting Employees Or Just Covering Lenoir City's derrière?

By: Pat Hunter

An e-mail, which contained confidential employee information was mistakenly sent to a Lenoir City resident by a high ranking Lenoir City official. Was this about Lenoir City wanting to protect its employees, almost 5-months after the fact? If this were the case, why didn't Mayor Matt Brookshire and City Administrator Dale Hurst, act quickly to notify city employees about the accidental release of confidential information? If City Officials had acted promptly to inform City employees, could they have avoided months of worry and headaches, David Divelbiss's letter, and taxpayer expense, all over a careless mistake made by a City official? What about the Mayor and City Administrator, what responsibility and liability do they share?

Was it was easier for Lenoir City officials to finger point and to blame Divelbiss rather than just do what was right?

On May 8, 2008, a Temporary Restraining Order and Temporary Injunction was issued against David Divelbiss, by the City of Lenoir City. Divelbiss is a Lenoir City resident and he is a local editor of TOPIX, a blog internet news. Divelbiss doesn't mind mincing words when it comes to Lenoir City politics or the good ole boy network. Most recently, he wrote an expose about a "Cover-up at City Hall." The story is listed in the archives of the Van Shaver website at Devilbiss gave a detailed account about how he had received an unsolicited e-mail with sensitive employee information. Little did he know that his legal dust-up was about to begin.

On or about Dec. 18, 2007, an e-mail was inadvertently sent to David Divelbiss from Ms. Maggie Hunt, pro-tempore Recorder-Treasurer for the City of Lenoir City. The e-mail was sent to Ms. Katie Couto and a courtesy copy sent to Divelbiss, which contained confidential 401 K employee retirement plan information, social security numbers and other personal information.

Subsequently, on Jan. 12, 2008, Divelbiss sent an e-mail to Mayor Matt Brookshire and Dale Hurst, Lenoir City Administrator, informing them about Ms. Hunt's un-solicited email. When Divelbiss learned that City officials did not take action to notify city employees, he sent letters to the employees informing them about the e-mail, so employees could take measures to protect their identity. Divelbiss informed Federal officials about the e-mail incident and he requested an investigation of Lenoir City officials. He did not share proprietary information and the email was deleted from his computer or in his possession. 

According to court records, a Summons was issued on May 20, 2008 at the verbal request of Attorney Shannon Littleton. Divelbiss was ordered to appear in Loudon County General Sessions Court on Friday, May 23 at 9:00 AM. He was represented by Knoxville attorney Paul McLemore. The Court hearing was delayed about 45-minutes because McLemore was representing another client in Roane County before rushing to be at his client's side.

Attorney Littleton acknowledged in Court that Lenoir City wrongfully sent David Divelbiss an e-mail containing confidential information with social security numbers and other pertinent information of sixty eight Lenoir City employees. He also admitted that Lenoir City wrongfully took no action to notify the sixty-eight employees about the release of sensitive personal information.

Attorney Littleton explained that Lenoir City’s action was not only to stop Divelbiss’s actions but to make sure that all employee information was destroyed. Lenoir City wanted to make sure that employee information was not being disseminated and that any letters sent to current or former city employees was stopped. Additionally, Lenoir City wanted to make sure that all information, copies and/or printout's would be destroyed.

Attorney McLemore acknowledged what Littleton had said. Divelbiss had made copies of the e-mail itself and not the attachment with the confidential information. The attachment was destroyed. Divelbiss acknowledge receiving the email. He testified that he did not make copies of the attachment but that he did send it to a federal agency, United States Attorney's Office requesting an investigation. Divelbiss was asked, did he send the email and attachment to others; he replied no?

From the bench, Judge Russell inquired, to your knowledge did you forward that email to anyone else? He replied no, other than to the federal agency. The Electronic copy of employee information was deleted. Divelbiss had not asked for the e-mail and the information was destroyed. Attorney Littleton seemed to back down from his earlier demand that Divelbiss reimburse Lenoir City for administrative costs and attorney's fees.       

Judge Russell asked if there were any other matters to come before the Court and City Attorney Shannon Littleton said no. Littleton was asked to prepare an Order, acknowledging what took place and submit it to the Court.

No press was present for the hearing.

Lawsuit looming

After the Court hearing, I had an opportunity to speak to City Attorney Littleton about the case. Was the employee disciplined; to some degree, he replied?

Lenoir City has a pending lawsuit and has since purchased Identity Protection for its City employees. Measures and policies have been implemented to avoid a repeat from this occurring again. He said that for years, confidential information was sent by email and this practice has since been stopped. All future confidential information would be sent by overnight secure courier mail. Employees are still very upset for the City not contacting them. 

Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr., arrived at the lobby of the Justice Center shortly after the Court adjourned. Its uncertain whether the elder Johnson, Sr., who serves on Lenoir City Council and the Lenoir City School Board was late for the Court hearing or just there on other business.


Court Records - Injunction Bond (2 pictures). The Restraining Order is shown in 8 pictures

Injunction Bond p1

Injunction Bond p2

Restraining Order p1

Restraining p2

Restraining p3

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Restraining p7

Restraining p8