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.

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.

Holding a Car Pursuant to a Mechanic’s Lien Doesn’t Violate the Automatic Stay

Generally, if you’re a creditor and you have possession of a bankrupt debtor’s possessions, you have to give it back when they file bankruptcy. But not always.

Today, I’m talking about mechanic’s liens.

As you’ll remember in Tennessee, Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-19-101 allows a mechanic to assert a lien for repairs performed on a vehicle, and, in order to preserve the super-priority perfection in the vehicle, the mechanic has to retain actual, physical possession of the car.

But, what about when the customer files bankruptcy, and the demand to turnover the vehicle comes from a Bankruptcy Attorney, alleging a violation of the automatic stay?

Bankruptcy Courts say that the mechanic can still hold on to the car.

Certain actions are excepted from the automatic stay, including “any act to perfect, or to maintain or continue the perfection of an interest in property to the extent that the trustee’s rights and powers are subject to such perfection under section 546(b)”  11 U.S.C.A. § 362(b)(3). Section 546(b) limits a trustee’s avoidance powers under 11 U.S.C.A. § 549 with respect to “the maintenance or continuation of perfection of an interest in property … [i]f a law … requires seizure of such property … to accomplish such perfection, or maintenance or continuation of perfection of an interest in property[.]” 11 U.S.C.A. § 546(b). Statutory liens such as mechanics liens fall within the scope of this exception.

That’s a lot of legal citations, so here’s the take away: if the repairman holds a statutory mechanics lien upon the vehicle for the repairs done, then the retention of the vehicle–even after the Bankruptcy Case is filed–does not violate the automatic stay.

In that case, the Debtor must either propose to pay the lien, fight it,  or give up the car. Good news for mechanics.

Get Your Law School Applications In: Welcome to the Profession

It’s that time of year when English, Philosophy, and History majors start wondering what they’re going to do after graduation.

If you’re thinking about going to law school, you’re welcome to read the entirety of this New York Times article, The Lawyer, the Addict,  on substance abuse in the legal profession.

Or, you can read just this part, under the heading, “Rewarded for Being Hostile.” After noting that lawyers “have the highest rate of depression of any occupational group in the country,” there’s this:

Yes, there are other stressful professions…Being a surgeon is stressful, for instance — but not in the same way. It would be like having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation. In law, you are financially rewarded for being hostile.

I love that image. I mean, I also hate it, as a lawyer who has to deal with lawyers all day long.

The law is a strange profession. Look at the ads in the Yellow Pages, and there they are: “Hostile”; “Aggressive”; “Take No Prisoners”; “Bulldog.”

Aggressive

Here is a law firm using, literally, an angry gorilla to advertise their services. (I found another one with a lawyer holding a ninja sword, but I didn’t post that.)

This isn’t the part where I say that I hate my job, but it’s a note that the legal profession is a strange one.

The next ten years will be interesting, as more of the “old school” attorneys retire and make way for the millennials, who, if we believe the news stories, value quality of life and collaboration. Maybe, we’ll see a decrease in this “law is war” mentality.

But, with a generation raised on social media snark, I wonder whether we’ll see a continuation of the broader cultural shift to a lack of civil behavior, particularly with the wide-spread use of e-mail communication as the primary means of lawyer to lawyer communication and long-distance / remote practice.

What I’m saying, in the end, is: Welcome to the Jungle, new lawyers.

 

I Deactivated Facebook, and I Miss it for Business Reasons (Sort of)

I rolled my eyes, last month, when I saw a few of the New Year’s resolution posts on–and about–social media.

“Goodbye all. I’m deleting [insert name of social media service]. I want to engage more with friends in real life, [etc.]”

But, here I am, a month later, and I’m one of those people. I’ve deleted my Facebook account.

I’ve taught seminars on the pitfalls of social media in family law cases.  (Spoiler alert: If you were born after 1985 and are getting a divorce, it’s already too late for you.)

I’ve taught seminars on the value of social media for lawyer marketing. (Spoiler alert: People don’t want to connect with, hear from, or see pictures of their lawyer on Facebook.)

I won’t go into all the details, but, frankly, I’m sick of all the noise, and, by “noise,” I mean all the ads, and also all the likes, comments, and posts of “friends of friends” (which, in non-Facebook speak, translates to “people who I don’t know”). Simply put, there isn’t a point to any of it.

So, here I am, 24 hours into this grand experiment. And I miss Facebook a little…for business reasons.

I got a call from a potential client, and, using his phone number, I instinctively went to Facebook to search his cell number and look at his Facebook page (i.e. my “Is this a Crazy Person” test).

And, yes, begrudgingly, I’ll admit that Facebook has been occasionally useful for work purposes.

So, here I am, a day into the experiment, and the better play is to delete the App. Or just deactivate Facebook.

 

To Recover Attorney’s Fees in Tennessee, You Have to Be Express and Exact in Your Contract

We’ve talked about this before: Tennessee is a great, creditor-friendly state, but, if you want to recover your attorney’s fees in Tennessee, you’d better have some very specific language in your contract.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals filed an opinion last week as a reminder, at Nyrstar Tennessee Mines-Strawberry Plains, LLC v. Claiborne Hauing, LLC, Tenn. Ct. Apps, No. E2017-00155-COA-R3-CV.

Here is the contract provision the Court considered:

The Customer must pay Nyrstar all costs and expenses incurred by Nyrstar in connection with enforcing its rights against the Customer under an Agreement including legal expenses and other costs incurred in recovering monies owed by the Customer to Nyrstar.

By my read, “all costs and expenses,” along with “including legal expenses,” should be good enough.

The Nystar Court disagreed. That text does not say “including reasonable attorney’s fees.”

As a result, “The provision at issue does not specifically or expressly create a right to ‘fees,’ ‘attorney’s fees,’ or ‘reasonable attorney’s fees.'” Further, ““the term ‘expenses,’ without more, . . . does not include an award of attorney fees.”

As a result, “[t]he language in the contract before us is not sufficient for Nyrstar to be  entitled to recover its attorney’s fees. The provision at issue does not expressly or  specifically create a right for Nyrstar to recover its attorney’s fees.”

So, if you want to recover attorney’s fees in Tennessee, you’d better say exactly that in your contract–that the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover its attorney’s fees.

The Ethical Implications of How You Obtain Evidence: Avoid “Pretexting” (And Also Everything Else Harvey Weinstein Did)

This week, the New Yorker ran an article, “Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies,” which talked about the ways that the embattled movie producer investigated the women making sexual harassment claims against him.

One of the stranger aspects, however, is that he used his lawyer, David Boies, to employ these investigators, who later pretended to be victims in order to gain the trust and sympathy of the targeted victims.

Sure, we can be appalled at the extreme measures employed, but, when his lawyer puts his signature on any aspect of it, it becomes even more troubling.

This blog isn’t about Harvey Weinstein-level counter-intelligence, but this type of thing occasionally comes up in real life law practice, particularly in domestic relations.

This is referred to as “pretexting,” and it involves some sort of ruse or deception to obtain information. Frequently, it will entail the creation of a fake social media accounts to “friend” or communicate with a witness or opposing party.

This is unethical behavior and, in Tennessee, violates the Rules of Professional Responsibility. Rule 4.1 provides that “a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.” In addition to lawyer professional disciplinary proceedings, such actions can result in criminal or civil liability under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and other mail/wire fraud statutes.

But, let’s be clear: Information that a person publicly posts online is perfectly ripe for the taking and use, including public posts and pictures. Similarly, information that a person privately posts but which a party has knowing permission to access can also be used.

The key is that a lawyer–or an investigator working for the lawyer–should not use deception or lie in order to obtain that access.  But, short of that, if it’s out there and it’s useful, download it, copy it, save it, and use it.

As an aside–and totally appropriate for this topic–I’ll be presenting the topic “Ethical Issues: Using Social Media/The Evidentiary Role of Technology,” at the Family Law Conference for Tennessee Practitioners in December 2017.