What Happens to Stale, Unserved General Sessions Lawsuits? Some Get Dismissed.

I was doing some general sessions legal research today. And, no, that isn’t a mis-print.

There are some really interesting legal issues that come up in small claims court.

Today, I found a corollary to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 3, which I blogged about a few years back. Rule 3 says that un-issued and un-served Summonses may not preserve the statute of limitations.

The similar rule in sessions court is Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-710, which provides:

The suing out of a warrant is the commencement of a civil action within the meaning of this title, whether it is served or not; but if the process is returned unserved, plaintiff, if plaintiff wishes to rely on the original commencement as a bar to the running of a statute of limitations, must either prosecute and continue the action by applying for and obtaining new process from time to time, each new process to be obtained within nine (9) months from return unserved of the previous process, or plaintiff must recommence the action within one (1) year after the return of the initial process not served.

So, in short, if you want to rely on the date you filed your lawsuit, then you have to make sure you get a new Alias Summons issued within 9 months of your last, unserved warrant.

If you don’t, you may have to re-file your entire lawsuit. Yikes.

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Leases Can be Assigned in Bankruptcy Court, No Matter What the Lease Says

If you’re a smart commercial landlord (or you have smart drafting counsel), you’ll include a provision in your commercial lease agreement that prohibits transfers or assignments of the lease without the landlord’s consent.

The reasoning is obvious: Not all tenants are created equal, and it should be the landlord who gets to pick the tenants, not the tenants.

Despite an otherwise valid “anti-assignment” provision in a lease, a lease can be assigned by a bankruptcy debtor-in-possession or trustee under the Bankruptcy Code.

Specifically, 11 U.S.C. § 365(f) provides that:

(1) Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c) of this section, notwithstanding a provision in an executory contract or unexpired lease of the debtor, or in applicable law, that prohibits, restricts, or conditions the assignment of such contract or lease, the trustee may assign such contract or lease under paragraph (2) of this subsection.

(2) The trustee may assign an executory contract or unexpired lease of the debtor only if–

(A) the trustee assumes such contract or lease in accordance with the provisions of this section; and

(B) adequate assurance of future performance by the assignee of such contract or lease is provided, whether or not there has been a default in such contract or lease.

This will most likely come up in an Section 363 sale of the assets of the debtor, where a buyer gets the assets, along with certain court ordered benefits and protections (this subsection included).

No matter how well crafted certain documents are (whether it’s a note, deed of trust, or lease), there are certain situations in which a Bankruptcy Court will pre-empt state law. This is one of them.

 

Judicial Estoppel Prevents Litigants from Contradicting Themselves

When I’m involved in litigation, I always look for recent cases involving my opposing party, to mine those cases for similar issues, useful facts, and relevant admissions to use in my case.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a recent opinion, at Polly Spann Kershaw v. Jeffrey Levy  (Tenn. Ct. Apps, Mar. 28, 2018, No. M2017-01129-COA-R3-CV), that reminds me that this is a good idea.

In that case, a former client sued her lawyer, alleging that, as a result of his alleged bad advice and malpractice, she entered into an unfair and generally bad divorce settlement after he withdrew from the case.

But, as part of her divorce settlement, she signed a sworn Marital Dissolution Agreement, which included the affirmation that “the Agreement is fair and equitable and that it is being entered into voluntarily…”

In response to the client’s claims that she was forced into an “unfair” divorce settlement, the lawyer filed for summary judgment, citing those sworn statements in the divorce pleadings and arguing, under the concept of “judicial estoppel,” that she can’t change her position.

The Court of Appeals agreed, saying that “[t]he sworn statement is not merely evidence against the litigant, but (unless explained) precludes him from denying its truth. It is not merely an admission but an absolute bar.” Further, judicial estoppel “seeks to ensure that parties do not ‘play fast and loose with the courts’ by contradicting a previous sworn statement or testimony.”

A litigant may have different incentives in front of different courts, and this is certainly useful when an opposing party has filed Bankruptcy or divorce–both settings where it may be beneficial to understate their income or the value of their assets.  I’ve specifically used it where a litigant affirms a debt or lien in Bankruptcy Schedules, which are signed under oath, and then, later in state court, tries to contest my bank’s claims.