Last week, I wrote about how Bankruptcy Court debtor filings were at an all-time low in the Middle District of Tennessee.
A few of you asked if there was a corresponding drop in Chancery, Circuit, and General Sessions filings. Maybe that’s why people weren’t running to file bankruptcy.
Given the numbers in Bankruptcy Court, it’d make sense that state court litigation might have also slowed down, but I was a bit surprised by the answer.
Davidson County Chancery Court lawsuits have been surprisingly consistent. The final Chancery lawsuit of 2021 was filed at 11:59AM on December 30. It was case number 21-1324-I, which means that it was the 1,324th case filed last year. It’s an unpaid commercial debt lawsuit.
For comparison, here are the last few years’ numbers on new case filings: 1,299 cases filed in 2020; 1,569 in 2019; 1,413 in 2018; and 1,386 in 2017.
In short, there was no real drop in chancery court litigation, which surprised me. 2021 felt like a slow litigation year for Nashville.
Of the ten stories featured in the Nashville Post’s 2021 “Top Reads: Legal” article, six of them were just about law firm personnel moves not, you know, actual news-worthy litigation.
In general, you’d expect to see the business-minded Chancery Court have cases on this list, but, frankly, it’s a bit boring (no offense, toilet fire lawsuit).
What about General Sessions Cases? This is where it gets more interesting.
As of the end of November, there were 6,551 detainer / eviction warrants filed in 2021, along with 15,404 small claims lawsuits filed. For that same period (end of November) in 2019, there were 10,694 eviction lawsuits and 24,508 small claims lawsuits filed. Long story short, that’s about a 40% drop in filings.
Circuit Court? By the end of November, there had been 1,736 new civil lawsuits filed in 2021. At the end of November 2019, there had been 2,590 civil lawsuits filed, representing a 33% drop.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this data. A 40% drop in evictions and credit card/debt collection cases would certainly be expected to result in a slower pace of new bankruptcy filings, but, nevertheless, this also shows that the common perception that “courts are closed” and “evictions aren’t happening” is incorrect.
Some credit has to be given to the LEGACY Housing Resource Diversionary Court run by Davidson County Judge Rachel Bell. This program can’t stop the new eviction filings, but it has helped many pending cases get resolved. As of September 20, 2021, $18,799,705.71 had been paid to landlords via this program and, most likely, kept those tenants out of the bankruptcy lawyers’ offices.
In the end, my take is that Middle Tennessee bankruptcy filing numbers are far more impacted by lawsuits filed in Davidson County General Sessions Courts than by the business-litigation dockets in Chancery Court. These numbers offer some part of an explanation.