341: Coronavirus Impacts Tennessee Courts, and Creditors too

No Suits, No Ties, No Court…For the Rest of This Month! Tennessee Courts acted quickly in response to COVID-19. On Friday, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an Order that all courts will remain “open” (sort of) during the coronavirus outbreak. I say “sort of” because all in-person judicial proceedings will be suspended through March 31, 2020.

I’m a litigator, and I generally appear in court 3 to 4 times a week. This is going to be weird. I usually appreciate days when I don’t have to wear a suit or tie to work, but this might be too much non-court time. Especially since I’ll be spending this time, 24/7, with my small children.

I love them, but they make the most unreasonable judge seem like a breath of fresh air.

My collections clients are going to hate this. For many courts, the inability to appear at court proceedings means, effectively, that court is closed. Specifically, I’m talking about General Sessions Court, where judgments get entered only in open court.

Following the Supreme Court’s lead, Davidson County General Sessions Court announced they will be closed to in-person proceedings, except for very limited matters (generally criminal matters), through April 13, 2020, at the earliest.

This means that there will be no debt collection dockets or evictions in Nashville for over a month. You can file new lawsuits all month long, because the Clerk will remain operational to accept new filings, including a “drop-box” for non-in-person filings.

This is good news from a “disease containment” sense, as it’s designed to limit physical access in a very bustling courthouse. It’s also good news for those who are economically impacted by the shut down of our local economy.

But, for landlords with pending eviction actions (i.e. non-paying tenants who had already been in default), these extra weeks will be frustrating.

Creditor attorneys won’t like it either. And, for creditor attorneys whose livelihood depends on that monthly collections disbursement check from the Clerk, any interruption in the Clerk’s ability to meet customers to accept judgment payments, process those payments, and disburse those payments will create a huge cash flow problem.

I’m guessing if debtors can’t get in the door, there’s a chance that they can’t get to the Clerk to make their weekly/monthly payments.

The only civil hearings you’ll see are TRO hearings. The Supreme Court order lists a number of exceptions for legal proceedings involving life, liberty, and limb, but most civil actions will not be heard.

The only civil law exception is for “Proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief.”

That’s a good exception. Injunctions are generally described as “extraordinary relief,” and they are designed to address emergency situations.

I wonder if the Courts will enter “no response” orders–orders that generally get granted as a matter of course and without a hearing, when there’s no response filed.

All Middle District of Tennessee Bankruptcy Court Chapter 13 Meeting of Creditors will be conducted via Zoom.us online video conference. On Friday, the Chapter 13 Trustee sent around an email announcing that all 341 Meetings would be conducted via Zoom online conferences. I think this is very smart, to reduce the number of people having to come to court and, at the same time, to keep the process moving forward.

But, it’s going to have a steep technological and learning curve. I suspect this is going to be a difficult process to master, but I’m impressed with the quick response and effort.

You’ll be getting Zoom invites from me next week. So, I’ve struggled with finding a good mass/video communication platform, and I’ve experimented with a few services.

If it’s good enough for Jordan Furlong, then it’s good enough for me.

Well, with all the great press I’m seeing about Zoom, I signed up and did my first test run this morning, with my 8 year old in the next room. It went fairly flawlessly and was very user-friendly.

Author: David

I am a creditors rights attorney with Bone McAllester Norton PLLC in Nashville, Tennessee.

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