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.

How to Conduct a Sheriff’s Sale of Real Property in Tennessee: It Depends on Who You Ask

Many years ago, the Tennessee Bar Journal ran an article by Knoxville legal luminary Don Paine called “Practical Advice for Collecting a Judgment.”  Clearly, this article got my attention.

In it, Paine outlines how to obtain a judgment lien on real property and how to ultimately sell the property pursuant to that lien. His analysis begins and ends with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69, which provides that a judgment lien creditor shall file a motion requesting that the court order a sale. In fact, Rule 69.07(4) specifically says “[a]s long as a judgment lien is effective, no levy is necessary”–just file a Motion.

Rule 67.04 provides a specific procedure for a Sheriff’s Sale of real property (i.e. 30 days advance notice; 3 total publications; distribution of proceeds).

But, elsewhere in Tennessee statutes, there’s a different procedure for sheriff’s execution sales of real property. Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-5-101 lays out its own set of rules and requirements, which are differ in minor ways to Rule 69 (i.e. 20 days advance notice).

And, having done my own Sheriff’s Sale earlier this summer, I chuckled when I saw Paine’s article. After I had a Rule 69.07 Motion granted and asked the Clerk to initiate the sale process, the Clerk and Master on my case ignored my Order Granting Motion for Sale, telling me, instead, I need to accomplish the sale by levy and execution.

Side note: One of the things that makes collections interesting is that you’re not just dealing with a Judge anymore, you’re dealing with a Clerk, who may have their own opinions about how things are done.

So, how do you reconcile these differing procedures? And, trust me, these mechanical / procedural issues come up all the time.

Paine’s answer is simple: Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-3-406, when a Rule is in conflict with any other law, the Rule prevails.

But, as a practical matter, try telling that to the Clerk, when they say “You need to file a Levy.”

On my sale, here’s what I did: I did both. I had an Order and then issued a Levy on the real property, pursuant to my Order. When the requirements differed, I used the procedure that complied with both.

Sometimes, being right is less important than getting the job done.

Tennessee Law on Sheriff’s Sales Can be Confusing, but Worth the Work

A very long time ago, I wrote that judgment collections may require patience but that, fortunately, Tennessee judgments are valid for ten years.

So, while you may be dealing with a debtor without any money now, keep in mind that this economy can shift for the good, as quick as it went bad. In collections, patience can lead to money.

That was in July 2010, and, man-oh-man, has Nashville’s economy rebounded. If you’ve followed my other advice, way back when, you have already ordered a certified copy of your judgment and recorded it as a lien in the real property records.

So, fast-forward to 2017. If you take that old judgment lien and add in 7-8 years’ worth of property appreciation, maybe it’s time for you to consider conducting a sheriff’s sale of real property pursuant to your judgment lien.

In Tennessee, Sheriff’s Sales are governed by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.07(4) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-5-101, et. seq. At a recent seminar, I was asked which of the two lines of authority controlled the process: Rule 69; or the Tennessee Code?

The correct answer is, unfortunately, that nobody is entirely sure. So, I guess, the answer is that both control the process.

As a practical matter, when I’m conducting a sheriff’s sale of real property to enforce a judgment, I follow all of the requirements under Rule 69 and also under Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-5-101. Sure, that makes for a lot of “hoops” to jump through, but the hoops are never contradictory.

Given the appreciation in property values, sheriff’s sales can be a very effective collection method.

 

General Sessions Court is Weird, and Also Awesome

In General Sessions  today, I saw two funny things. One lawyer was walking around with a half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew in his suit jacket. Another lawyer had a can of snuf in his back-pocket as he made an argument to the Judge.

(Disclaimer: I love Mountain Dew, and I’ve praised  the A.A. Birch courthouse and others for keeping it fully stocked.)(Second Disclaimer: I’ve talked about Mountain Dew a lot on twitter.)

What I’m saying is that Davidson County General Sessions Court is a little bit different than the stuffy and formal proceedings in District Court.

That’s why a lot of the larger Nashville law firms don’t file anything in small claims court.  It can be a weird, fly-by-the-seat of your pants exercise in justice. Big firms and “fly-by-your-seat” don’t mix well.

But the following timeline shows how General Sessions Court is awesome:

  • October 18, 2017:   Filed Civil Warrant for $24,999.00.
  • October 19, 2017:  Obtained Personal Service on Defendant.
  • October 26, 2017:  Took a Judgment for $33,500.00 (base amount, but remember this old post–you can exceed that amount with attorney fees, expenses, etc.).

So, to be clear, after the 10 day appeal period expires on Monday, November 6, 2017, I’ll have a final judgment for $33,500.00 and can execute on it–in less than three weeks after filing the lawsuit.

If your creditor lawyers are filing collection lawsuits in Circuit Court or Chancery to collect debts that are less than $25,000.00, you’re paying too much and waiting too long for your Judgments.

Collections in Probate: Some Pointers

Earlier this month, I taught a CLE seminar for the Probate & Estate Planning Section of the Memphis Bar Association.  The seminar was called “Collection After Death: Common Roadblocks and Strategies in Collection Before, After, and During Probate.”

As you probably know, Probate Law isn’t my focus, so I spent a good amount of time brushing up in preparation for this presentation in Memphis.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of the info I learned.

Here’s a starter: Did you know that there’s an absolute bar to filing claims against a deceased person 12 months after the date of their death? Look at Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-310.

So, notwithstanding the Notice to Creditor requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-306 and the associated deadlines imposed under the Code, this absolute 12 month statute of limitation still applies and can bar a creditor’s claim, even if the the creditor didn’t know the debtor was dead and even if the creditor didn’t receive any sort of notice of death or notice to file claims.

In fact, as a result of this strict 12 month statute of limitations on the filing of claims, if the probate case isn’t actually filed in that 12 month period, the creditor is simply out of luck. To be clear, as an example, if the probate case isn’t filed until 13 months after the date of death, there is no reason to issue a notice to creditors, as all of the creditors’ claims are barred.

The law says that the remedy for a creditor dealing with a deceased borrower is to commence their own probate case for the borrower during that 12 month period and, in that case, file a claim. Yikes. Who knew probate law was so tricky?

 

Tennessee Post-Judgment Rate is at (New) All Time High

More than four years ago, I complained about the (then) new post-judgment interest rates in Tennessee. Long story short, the interest rate on judgments in Tennessee used to be a clean, easy 10%. Under the new version of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121, judgments accrue interest at a variable rate, that could change every 6 months.

One of my complaints was that it’s so difficult to figure out what the rate is at any time, but, luckily, the statute requires the administrative office of the courts to publish the applicable rate.

So, today’s post is to notify you of this: As of July 1, 2017, the rate is as high as it’s ever been, at a whopping 6.25%.

To Renew a Tennessee Judgment, the Motion Must be Filed Within the Ten Year Period

A quick follow-up to my discussion of Rule 69.04 and renewal of judgments in Tennessee.

A few of you e-mailed me to ask about the timing of filing a motion to extend the judgment for another ten years. Specifically, does the motion have to be granted in the ten year period, or is it enough to simply file the motion during the ten year period?

The answer is contained in Rule 69.04.

As long as a motion to extend is filed “[w]ithin ten years from entry of a judgment,”  a judgment creditor may “avoid having the judgment become unenforceable by operation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-110(a)(2).” See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.04 Advisory Comm. cmt. to 2016 revision.

Also, look at In re Hunt, 323 B.R. 665, 669 (Bankr. W.D. Tenn. 2005), which says “it is not essential that the debtor receive these pleadings within the ten-year period, only that the renewal pleading be filed within that time.”

To be clear, it’s my interpretation that Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.04 does not require the order extending the judgment for the additional ten-year period to be entered within ten years from the entry of the old judgment. But you have to file that Motion to Renew before the ten years expires.