Post-Judgment Interest Rates in Tennessee Have Finally Increased (by .25%)

Back in July 2012, the Tennessee legislature passed a new “post-judgment” interest statute, which can be found at Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121. As I said back then, it was a big change: Instead of a blanket “10%” rate, Tennessee would be using a variable rate, tied to the “formula rate published by the commissioner of financial institutions.”

Long story short: I hate it when the law replaces something simple with something complicated.

Since the enactment of the statute, the post-judgment interest rate has been 5.25%, until January 1, 2016, when it jumped up to 5.5%.

The sky has not yet fallen, however, like I said it would. My biggest concern was: “[t]here appears to be an obligation to research and modify the rate every six months. Payoffs just got a lot more difficult.” I don’t like math.

After a few years with the statute, I’m of the opinion that the interest rate on a judgment is set at the date of the judgment and then doesn’t change. As a result, there’s no need to track the ups and downs of the statutory rate.

But, to be entirely safe, I always recite the exact post-judgment rate in effect at the time of my judgment in my judgment, to save any confusion and subsequent research.

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Erin Andrews Judgment May Not be Easy to Collect Against Hotel Defendants

After a stalker took authorized “peephole” footage in her Nashville hotel room, Erin Andrews filed a lawsuit in Nashville in 2011 against the the stalker and the hotel entities for invasion of privacy, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Here’s my post about the initial lawsuit, with a link to the Complaint.

For the past two weeks, Nashville has had the attention of sports and legal fans, as Andrews’ case was tried in front of a local jury. I was in the courtroom on Friday, to watch the lawyers make their closing arguments to the jury. It’s not often you get to see a fight over $75 million dollars.

Yesterday, the jury announced their verdict: A judgment of $55 million, with the stalker responsible for 51 percent of the blame, and the two hotel companies responsible for 49 percent (Note: Tennessee is a “comparative negligence” state). By my math, the hotel defendants are liable for about $27 million of the judgment.

After the judgment was announced, a number of media outlets analyzed the judgment. Some said that it may be appealed as excessive. Others focused on how much the lawyers are going to profit from it.

Sports Illustrated ran a story on her ability to actually collect the money. The article makes a good point about the stalker–that he’s in prison and probably “judgment proof.” That means that, even though he’s obligated to pay the money, his ability to earn money is diminished and he’ll be broke for the rest of his life.

The hotel defendants, however, are a different story. They appear to have strong cash flow, and they’ll probably look to their insurance carriers for some funds. Corporate bankruptcy may be an option, given the amount of the award. Most likely, the article concludes, the corporate defendants may appeal the amount of the award and, at the same time, work on a settlement agreement.

Here is my sales pitch: I will collect this Judgment. If you’ve read this blog or attended any of my collection seminars, you know the first thing I’d do: Record a Judgment Lien.

The hotel property at 2555 West End Avenue is in the heart of Nashville’s hottest district, and the property has a tax appraisal of $36,477.600. If the Judgment is recorded, then the defendants can’t refinance, sell, or do anything with the property without paying the judgment.

So, that’s that, right? Not so fast.

West End Hotel Partners, LLC doesn’t own the property; Vanderbilt is owner and West End Hotel Partners operates the hotel on the land pursant to to a 40 year ground lease. This means that Vanderbilt owns the property, but that the hotel has a long-term right to use the property, including construction of improvements. At the end of the lease, the hotel may revert to the ownership of Vanderbilt.

Regardless, a judgment lien attaches to whatever interest in the land a defendant holds, including this ground lease. The creditor may not get everything, but the lien would attach to enough to get their attention and complicate any future transactions related to the property.

Here, as always, record a judgment lien as the first step in collecting on a judgment.

Tennessee Detainer Actions: Not Just for Tenants and Landlords

What if you own real property, but someone else has possession of the property, and you want them gone? You evict them. But, as you’ll see under Tennessee statutes, they don’t call it an “eviction” lawsuit; they call it a “detainer” lawsuit.

The statute in Tennessee is Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-104, titled “Unlawful Detainer.” That statute provides:

Unlawful detainer is where the defendant enters by contract, either as tenant or as assignee of a tenant, or as personal representative of a tenant, or as subtenant, or by collusion with a tenant, and, in either case, willfully and without force, holds over the possession from the landlord, or the assignee of the remainder or reversion.”

These detainer actions are generally brought in general sessions court, where, as I’ve noted before, you can exceed the $25,000 jurisdictional limit. Also, even though general sessions appeals are very easy on most matters, they are complicated and expensive in general sessions court.

So, if you’re a landlord, you’re probably reading that statute and thinking it’s exactly what you need, right? But, what about if you’ve purchased the property, either by a typical sale or a foreclosure? In that case, you’re not a landlord, and the defendant isn’t entering by contract (i.e. lease). Does a different statute apply?

No, said the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Federal National Mortgage Association v. Danny O. Daniels, W2015-00999-COA-R3-CV (Dec. 21, 2015).  There, the Court noted that the Deed of Trust will create “a landlord/tenant relationship … between the foreclosure sale purchaser and the mortgagor in possession of the property,” and, as a result, “constructive possession is conferred on the foreclosure sale purchaser upon the passing of title; that constructive possession provides the basis for maintaining the unlawful detainer.”

In such a case, a plaintiff must prove: (1) its constructive possession of the property (i.e. ownership of the property); and (2) its loss of possession by the other party’s act of unlawful detainer.

In short, the detainer statutes in Tennessee aren’t well crafted. Sometimes they reference landlords and tenants; sometimes they don’t. Courts have a tendency to construe statutes as written and to assume that the legislature means what it says when it uses specific words. That’s bad news for the foreclosure sale purchaser, who isn’t a landlord and who isn’t dealing with a tenant.

Here, however, it’s clear that the legislature should have proofread the statutes a few more times. Fortunately, Tennessee courts have applied the statutes in a broader sense.