341 Meeting: Suing Your Own Employees; Public Schools; Urgent Political Spam

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.

That’s a really bad look, especially in a climate where employers are criticized for not paying a living wage and also terrible health insurance benefits. Continue reading “341 Meeting: Suing Your Own Employees; Public Schools; Urgent Political Spam”

Good Article on Tennessee’s Post-Foreclosure Deficiency Statute

This month’s Tennessee Bar Association Journal has a good article on the new post-foreclosure deficiency statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-118, titled “Deficiency Judgments after Foreclosure Sales.”

The article provides a detailed review of the cases construing that very ambiguous statute, which was enacted in 2010 and became effective September 1, 2010. Here’s what I wrote about the new law, back in 2010.

As you’ll recall, I litigated and won the first ever case construing the new law, in December 2012. My case was the GreenBank v. Sterling Ventures case, which is analyzed in the article.

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.

 

Borrower Beware: They look like Checks but act like Loans.

Nashville’s Fox 17 news asked me to comment on their news story about lending companies that target low income borrowers.

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.

You can click on the news segment above, but, ultimately, I gave this warning:

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.

And that’s where I end my tidy little blog post.

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.

Small Interpleader Actions are Allowed in General Sessions Court

A few years ago, I said that Interpleader lawsuits are the only times people like to hear from me. My lawyer marketing materials, literally, say “It’s bad news if you’re hearing from David Anthony.”

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.

Auto Masters files Large Bankruptcy Case in Middle District

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.

 

 

Quantum Meruit: How You (Sort of) Sue for Breach of Contract in Tennessee, When There’s No Written Contract

When you’re buying, selling, lending, or anything else in between, take the time to prepare a written agreement, spelling out the terms of what you’re agreeing to do and of what the other side is agreeing to do in exchange.  Get it in writing and get it signed.

Everybody knows this, but, regardless, sometimes you don’t get it in writing. Maybe the deal is rushed. Maybe you think it’s such a clean transaction that it doesn’t need to be complicated by a written agreement. (By the way, this advice applies for lawyers and engagement letters–oh boy, have I learned that lesson.)

Where there’s not a written agreement, you don’t have a “contract” claim against the other side; you have what is called a “quasi-contract” claim. Instead of suing under a contract, you’re suing under equity–it’s not fair for the other side to benefit from your performance.

The theory is referred to as “quantum meruit” or “unjust enrichment.” The Tennessee Court of Appeals very recently revisited the elements of a Tennessee quantum meruit claim. The Court stated:

Under a quantum meruit theory, a party may recover the reasonable value of goods and services provided to another if it demonstrates that:

(1) There is no existing, enforceable contract between the parties covering the same subject matter;

(2) The party seeking recovery proves that it provided valuable goods or services;

(3) The party to be charged received the goods or services;

(4) The circumstances indicate that the parties to the transaction should have reasonably understood that the person providing the goods or services expected to be compensated; and

(5) The circumstances demonstrate that it would be unjust for a party to retain the goods or services without payment.

In the end, even without a written agreement, equity will dictate that a party should recover the value of the goods or services from a non-paying party.

Because there’s no contract, however, you lose the typical “contract” protections, like attorney fees, interest, and, frankly, the certainty of being in control over the terms of your deal. Take the time on the front end to document your deals; as a result, you’ll save time and money on the back end, arguing over what each party claims the terms of the deal were.