Last week, the Davidson County General Sessions Court entered an Administrative Order that limited the number of cases that can be set on the civil dockets in Courtrooms 1A & 1B, with a cap of 25 cases per day (effective October 5, 2020).
That sounds like a lot of cases. It is not.
A typical General Sessions civil docket might have 50 to 100 cases on the docket. Davidson County has civil dockets every day of the week.
By my math, this represents a minimum 75% cut in capacity.
Granted, when I first heard about the 25 case limit, it didn’t sound like too much of a problem, since I don’t have a high volume consumer or residential eviction practice. The high volume lawyers who routinely have 25 of their own cases on each docket would be the ones with the problem, right?
Then, I got a call from a commercial landlord whose tenant hasn’t paid rent since March and has “gone dark.” The landlord asked me to get a judgment for possession as soon as possible.
But, despite being in payment default, The Palm went on the offensive and premptively filed the first lawsuit, arguing that the landlord’s (i.e. the Nashville Hilton) own shut-down in response to COVID was a breach that excused The Palm’s payment of its rent.
At the time, I marveled at the audacity of the tenant in making the first move. Today, however, I’ve discovered that this dispute has gone absolutely bonkers, and it’s has been (or is being) litigated in nearly every trial court in Davidson County.
First, there was the Chancery Court lawsuit filed by The Palm on July 9, 2020.
Then, after the Hilton declared The Palm to be in breach on July 13, 2020, the Hilton filed a Davidson County General Sessions evictions lawsuit on July 14, 2020.
In response, The Palm filed a Notice of Removal of the detainer action to the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on August 7, 2020. This prompted the Hilton to file a notice of voluntary dismissal on August 10, 2020.
Then, the Hilton filed a second detainer action in General Sessions Court on August 13, 2020. On August 26, 2020, The Palm filed an Application for Removal of the matter to Davidson County Circuit Court, which was granted.
So, what courts did they miss? Criminal Court? Bankruptcy? Environmental Court?
This dispute involves two mega-law firms, so it’s fun to see big-time lawyers fighting over eviction issues in small claims court.
Still, though, I have to wonder if the Hilton could have opposed The Palm’s request to remove the matter to Circuit Court, which was–possibly–an attempt to get the matter moved to the slower-paced Circuit Court, but without having to post the detainer possessory bond pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-130(b)(2), which requires a tenant that loses in sessions court to post one year’s worth of rent in order to remain in possession of the property.
Sessions Judges don’t like to waste valuable docket time on complex commercial matters, so they are generally happy to allow complicated, discovery-heavy trials to be removed to Circuit Court pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-732.
But, at the same time, it’s a move that Sessions judges see all the time, and the Judges will sometimes ask tenant’s counsel “Is the rent paid current?” and, depending on the answer, grant a judgment for possession, and tell the tenant’s counsel to appeal and sort it out in Circuit Court.
I don’t want to ruin the developing story, so I will remain quiet about the Landlord’s options in Circuit Court to force payment of rent. But they have a few.
Whatever direction this goes, in the age of COVID, this qualifies as entertainment (for law nerds).
The news was applauded, in light of the global outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the growing awareness of how little so many of us understand about what it means to be a non-white member of American culture. It’s not cool for a white country music band to be walking around with Antebellum in their name.
Then, well, I’ll let Second Lady A say it: “Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended.”
To be clear, that date of the end was July 8, 2020, when Second Lady A filed a lawsuit in Nashville federal court, asking the District Court to grant them the right to use the trademark. The lawsuit says that it isn’t asking for money, but, still, it’s a fairly aggressive move. Apparently, Original Lady A asked for $10 million as part of the conversations.
(1) This is a terrible look for Second Lady A. Maybe they’re correct as a matter of law, and I’ve just got more to learn about IP law. But, again, what a terrible look for Second Lady A. I tell my clients this all the time: You may be right here, but are there other factors to consider. Should we keep looking for a middle-ground resolution?
(2) I can’t wait for more information on the basis for jurisdiction in Nashville, Tennessee for this lawsuit.
This was big news for laywers. After COVID-19 prevented most in-person court proceedings, many innovative courts began to conduct contested, non-evidentiary hearings via the phone or Zoom.
What was so interesting about this matter, however, was this was a full-blown trial, with witnesses and 61 exhibits. This required lots of advance planning, exchanging exhibits, and technical preparation (Does Zoom work? Can you share screens and jointly review exhibits?)
It’s been an unprecedented time for our world, but it’s awesome to see our Tennessee Courts evolving to make sure matters get heard and also not being afraid to open up these news-worthy proceedings to the public.
My office is just down the street from the Davidson County Courthouse and only a block or two from the Tennessee Supreme Court, so it’s no big deal for me to stop by and observe an interesting or newsworthy court proceeding.
But, for the average citizen, the barriers to seeing the justice system at work are staggeringly prohibitive. The average person probably doesn’t know where the courthouse is, how to get there, where to park, or whether they are even allowed to “pop in” and watch a proceeding.
Long story short, the Tennessee Courts have really done a great job during the pandemic; not only staying open, but expanding and innovating. Here’s hoping that the progress continues.
Hassling Poor People, Who Happen to be Your Own Employees. When the economy hit rock bottom in 2009 or so, all kinds of doctors, lawyers, private schools hired me to collect their debts. Many had never dealt with bad debt before, or the awful circumstances that lead to defaults. They just saw the bad debt and thought it could be an income stream for them. It was an eye-opening lesson for many.
Since then, I occasionally have had to tell some of my clients that some debt isn’t worth collecting, whether it’s a low return on investment or, frankly, just bad PR.
This story out of Memphis reminds me of that. NPR reports that Methodist Le Bonheur Hospital is making national news for its practice of suing its own employees when they can’t pay their medical bills, and then using some pretty aggressive collection tactics when they can’t pay the judgments rendered in the lawsuits.
…what is striking at Methodist, the largest hospital system in the Memphis region, is how many of the patients being sued are the hospital’s own employees. Hardly a week goes by in which Methodist workers aren’t on the court docket fighting debt lawsuits filed by their employer.
If you’re a banker, a bank lawyer, or a defense lawyer helping some borrower clients, be sure to look at this article. It’s a weird law, and, as the last few paragraphs of the article suggest, there’s still a lot of things that are unknown/unclear about how Tennessee courts are going to apply it in the future.
The news report focused on one lending practice as particularly unscrupulous: the unsolicited check loan. These are sometimes called “live loan” checks. Maybe you’ve received one in the mail. They look exactly like a check, made payable to you, and all you have to do is take it to your bank and, boom, you’ve got cash.
And…you’ve got a new loan that probably has very bad interest rates and onerous terms.
There’s no such thing as free money, and so if someone has sent you a check unsolicited in the mail, that’s where your radar should go up. They do take advantage of someone who needs something. They have a resource, cash, that these people over here desperately need.
In the end, I’m sympathetic to the borrower, but also acknowledge a really hard fact: These type of credit vehicles may be the only life-line some borrowers have to pay rent, get medical treatment, or obtain necessary goods and services. And that’s not a problem created by an unscrupulous lender, but a part of the income inequality of modern society.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the lenders here, but I want to make sure that, while most of us are alarmed by these lending practices, we also realize that exposing these practices doesn’t, by itself, solve the deeper issues.
Poor people face a lack of access to funds for essential goods, services, and needs that is completely under-served and ignored. We may scorn the lenders for exploiting that need and call it predatory, but we also lack resources to consider alternate ways to address those needs.
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.
In that blog post, I talked about why interpleader lawsuits are good news. Well, sort of good news. I mean, it’s still a lawsuit and still a hassle to deal with.
Here’s a little bit better news. There’s a statute that allows a party to file an interpleader lawsuit in General Sessions Court, which means that the parties will: (a) get the money quicker; and (b) with less legal fees.
The statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-731(a), provides in part that:
Notwithstanding any rule of court or any law to the contrary, actions in the nature of interpleader, in which the value of the money that is the subject of the action does not exceed the jurisdictional limit of the general sessions court, may be filed in general sessions court under this part. …
So, if the amount is less than $25,000, and the matter is filed in General Sessions Court, you should be really happy to hear from me.
Bankruptcy filings are down in the Middle District of Tennessee Bankruptcy Courts. In the busy years, this district could expect anywhere from 13,000 to 15,000 cases to be filed annually under Chapter 7, 11, and 13. So far for 2017, only 7,000 cases have been filed. It’s a slow time for Bankruptcy, both because the economy in middle Tennessee continues to hum along strong–and because most people who were going to file Bankruptcy did over the last 4-5 years.
Our case filings got a big boost last night, as local car dealer and financier, Auto Masters, LLC, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, along with 7 of their related entities. This includes: Auto Masters of Franklin, LLC; Auto Masters of Clarksville, LLC; Auto Masters of Hermitage, LLC; Auto Masters of Madison, LLC; Auto Masters of Nashville, LLC; Auto Masters of Smyrna, LLC; and Auto Masters of West Nashville, LLC.
This is one of the largest debtor cases filed this year, and it’s no surprise to see the debtor is represented by Griffin Dunham, of Dunham Hildebrand, PLLC, one of Nashville’s more sophisticated (and litigious) debtor/creditor attorneys.
These filings closely follow the filing of a receivership lawsuit filed on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, by Capital One, NA, alleging default and requesting court review of Auto Masters’ business operations.
Expect a flurry of activity on these cases, since this case involves so many financial lenders, creditors, and impacted customers. This will be a big one.