New TN Court of Appeals Opinion: Even a defective foreclosure conveys good title

Tennessee is a non-judicial foreclosure state. In order to foreclose on somebody’s house or commercial property, all a lender must do is mail the proper paperwork to the proper parties. A lawsuit or other court involvement is not necessary.

That’s a drastic over-simplification, but, basically, it’s true.

In fact, when I did my first-ever foreclosure 20 years ago, I was so nervous about not having a court involved in such a complex and significant process that I filed a judicial foreclosure action. That way, at the end, I’d have a Judge’s blessing that “This was done correctly.”

What happens to a sale if the foreclosure attorney doesn’t do the paperwork correctly? Is it a valid sale? Can it be challenged?

Yesterday, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reminded us all that even a defective sale can convey good title, at Brady L. Daniels Et Al. v. Vince Trotter, E2020-01452-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 20, 2022).

In the case, it was alleged that the creditor did not provide proper notice of the sale, per Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-101(e). In the opinion, the Court discussed what, if any, impact of a failure to get the paperwork correct would have on the sale and cited two statutes.

The first, Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-106, provides that “[s]hould the officer, or other person making the sale, proceed to sell without pursuing the provisions of this chapter, the sale shall not, on that account, be either void or voidable.”

The second, Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-107, provides that the officer or other individual making the sale who fails to comply with the requirements in this chapter of conducting a private foreclosure sale is guilty of a class C misdemeanor and is liable for all damages incurred by the party injured due to his or her noncompliance.

These two statutes, the Court noted, are “intended to eliminate the uncertainty with land titles resulting from foreclosure sales.” Citing the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court later wrote that a defect in a foreclosure process would not result in the sale being set aside but, instead, the damaged party would simply be entitled to compensatory damages.

What’s Up with all the Moves in the Nashville Legal Market?

“Every day” would be exaggeration. But, “every other day” isn’t.

Every other day, I’m reading in the Nashville Post about some out of town Big Law firm buying a Nashville law firm or practice group (or, as Rex Hammock says “acquihire“). Or poaching a bunch of lawyers (or a few). Or just local firms shuffling lawyers like a deck of cards.

It’s absolutely nuts, and I love it. It’s like the NBA trade-deadline, but far more boring–unless you’re a lawyer, and you like gossip (two things that will be on my gravestone).

A few weeks ago, I had a pre-trial lunch with a lawyer from Jones Day in Atlanta, and I asked him if the Atlanta legal market is this crazy with attorney movement. He said, yes, but for associate attorneys.

There was a bit of condescension involved, but implicit in his response was the suggestion that, maybe, this suggests that Nashville is joining the big leagues. Part of becoming one of the “big cities” is being taken over by the “big” law firms.

For years, the Big Law firms never paid any attention to Nashville. Nashville’s legal market was ruled, largely, by home-grown, home-managed law firms whose footprint generally extended a few counties in any direction, but rarely beyond the state lines. Small firms, with big personalities.

If a Big Law firm had a Big Client who needed help in Nashville, they’d call one of the 3-4 big(-ish) Nashville law firms to serve as local counsel. But, in general, the Big Law Firms didn’t think they needed to be actually in Nashville.

That’s what has changed. The national/global law firms now realize they need to be here and are having to catch up by “buying” into the Nashville market. Atlanta isn’t seeing this constant shuffling, because, frankly, all the Big Firms are already in Atlanta.

And what a boon it’s been in Nashville. You know those random calls you get asking if you’d sell your house? That’s what’s happening. But with lawyers.

I’m curious about what the next 4-5 years holds in store in the Nashville market. Part of what has made Nashville’s legal world special is the eccentric independence of so many firms here in town. Sure, there are local folks you dislike having cases with, but at least you know them.

After a bunch of out-of-towners start buying up your neighbors’ houses, your property increases in value. But you don’t know your neighbors anymore.

So far, the shift to a global practice hasn’t made local deals any easier or more pleasant for me. With a year’s worth of perspective, though, I think it’s an inevitable part of our evolution as a city.

Recently, I dealt with Arizona lawyers on a hipster donut store lease in “southern Davidson County,” but they had no idea what I was talking about when I said “Brentioch.”

I’ll go back to what I said last year: What’s good for the Nashville legal market is going to be, generally, good for Nashville lawyers.

For a while, I was afraid to even mention all the local moves, worrying that this group or that group would think this post was about them. But that was probably 50 acquihires ago. This post is, literally, about the entire market (since we’ve all seemed to switch firms since 2019).


As long-time readers know, when I get busy with work, this blog suffers. As I’m nearing my anniversary of my firm’s current incarnation, I’ll be posting more, mainly as a way to share and discuss this solo- and small practice adventure over the last few years.

Are Foreclosures Coming Back? Here are some notable Middle Tennessee Foreclosures set this Week

I’m involved in a number of Nashville foreclosures right now, and here are some details for some pending sales for anyone looking to buy. (As always, the typical disclaimer: Nothing in this post, of course, is designed to give you legal or factual advice about these sales.)

(1) 1018 Riverwood Boulevard, Hermitage TN: June 21, 2022 at 10 am (this Tuesday). Sale to be conducted by Republic Bank, from an alleged second lien position, subject to a first from 2011 in the original amount of $178,837. Zillow Value: $490,600.

(2) 810 Bellevue Road, Unit 214, Nashville, TN 37221: June 22, 2022 at 10 am (this Wednesday). Sale to be conducted by HOA, from an alleged second lien position, subject to a first from 2003 in the original amount of $76,500. Zillow Value: $222,400.

(3) 1011 Murfreesboro Road, #A-4, Franklin, Tennessee 37064: June 22, 2022 at 1 pm (this Wednesday). Sale to be conducted by HOA, from an alleged second lien position, subject to a first from 2012 in the original amount of $56,500. Zillow Value:$359,500.

Please let me know if you would like additional information on any of these. I am the attorney for a creditor involved, and, as a result, I will be limited in what information and guidance that I can provide.

As with all distressed real estate sales, buyer beware, and hire a lawyer.

Service of Process: Just Like in Hollywood (Part 2)

It’s a strange day when legal procedural issues get top billing on the Today Show

As you may have seen, Jason Sudeikis served his ex-Olivia Wilde with legal papers while she was, literally, on a public stage talking about her upcoming movie. The photos from the event show her, in real time, opening the packet and reading the custody papers. On stage.

It’s news-worthy because it seems like such a jerk thing to do, especially given the public persona of Sudeikis, who is famous for playing the nicest character on modern TV and, generally, regarded as a nice person in real life.

Seriously, Ted Lasso isn’t just nice, but inspirationally nice. I can’t count the number of showy LinkedIn posts talking about life lessons people have learned from Ted. One review called the show a “warm hug of nice.”

But, this? This seems like a big-time jerk move.

I’ve written about this frequently: Service of process can be the hardest part of litigation, and a party may be forced to go to great lengths to get somebody personally served with legal papers. It may be a little too “on the nose” to cite examples from Hollywood, but this sequence from Pineapple Express is hilarious and procedurally accurate. It’s also a huge deal: Ineffective service of process can ruin your entire lawsuit.

Personally, in trying serve an evasive defendant, I’ve researched social media, court dockets, or anything else that will help me locate where and when the defendant may be. My process server has shown up holding a bouquet of flowers, an empty cardboard box, and waited at the end of a bike race, looking for Racer # 3433 at the finish line.

So, did Sudeikis do something wrong? It depends. Was Olivia Wilde evading service, requiring them to go to this extra mile to “catch” her? We don’t know that.

But, we do know this: This move is inflammatory and is going to make this litigation more difficult. As lawyers, we are faced with all sorts of “allowed” procedural tactics that sound great on paper, but that can also skew litigation into scorched earth territories in real life. Part of a good lawyer’s job is to talk clients out of those tactics and focus on the bigger picture.

Here, Sudeikis has already disavowed the action, saying that neither he nor his lawyer approved this rogue decision by the process server.

But, looking at the big picture, the damage may already be done. This custody battle just got a lot more contentious. And, honestly, it’s going to be weird watching Ted Lasso manage his own divorce and custody issues knowing what I know about this messy real-life drama.

Davidson County Election Picks from a Nashville Lawyer

Last night, I hosted a neighborhood “meet and greet” for a judicial candidate, and one of my neighbors told me something I didn’t know: We all watch your front yard, to see which candidate signs you have.

At the party, I saw this in real time, as neighbors showed up with pens, the Davidson County sample ballot mailing, and lots of questions.

If you put me in a roomful of people asking me questions, I’ll talk. Having said that, it was terrifying, seeing people circle names (or “X” out others) based just on what I was saying.

But, our city needs good judges and, as I shared my thoughts, I realized that my first-hand knowledge was useful to these people, who had never set foot in the courthouse. I go to courts in Davidson County for a living and nothing impacts my work as much as the quality of the local judiciary. So, I offered my honest and measured comments on each race.

I’ll share (some of) my comments with you all too:

First Circuit Court Judge (Division 1): I pick David Briley over Wendy Longmire. David has a compassionate heart for regular people and a calling to public service, coupled with a strong legal mind. I worked at a law firm with David Briley for more than 13 years, so I’m biased–but in a good way. He regularly represented individuals in personal injury cases, as well as pitched in on the biggest cases the firm handled. Personally, he and I teamed up on a construction lawsuit against one of America’s largest fast food chains, and I got to see him operate in my world. I was impressed (and so was my client). He’s also a nice, conscientious person. He’s someone who I trust to make the right decision.

Seventh Circuit Court Judge (Division 7): This is the Probate Court, and I don’t do probate law. But I know somebody who does it all the time: Andra Hedrick. And she’s running for Probate Judge. By my own review, she’s the most qualified candidate in terms of actual, practical experience. She’d be a great probate judge.

Eight Circuit Court Judge (Division 8): I support Kelvin Jones, the incumbent. He’s smart (look at his resume), and, when I can support candidates whose background and race reflect the larger community they serve, I have promised to do it. If you talk to him, you’ll see that he cares. This is a tough one (people I trust really disagree on these candidates), and I approached this race with a very open mind. I have gone to events for both candidates, and I see a clear argument for both. In short, do your research, and I won’t argue with you on this one.

Criminal Court Judge (Division 5): Whenever a big criminal case is shown on the news, it tends to have Monte Watkins as the judge. And he always does a good job. He’s a good judge and a good person.

District Attorney: My first legal job was a summer clerkship at the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office, and I learned, quickly, that it’s a hard job. Glenn Funk is doing a good job. I don’t do criminal defense, so my measure is how often do I–as a regular citizen–hear complaints about the DA’s office (like what happens in other cities). I just don’t hear about problems with Funk’s office. I trust him and his values.

Chancery Court Part III: There may be no court that I care more about than Chancery Court, Part III. “Chancellor Lyle is the best judge I’ve ever appeared in front of,” and this is her court. When she announced her retirement, I was curious about who would be brave and bold enough to fill those shoes. I am pleased that my friend and former colleague, I’Ashea Myles, is that person. Myles isn’t just running for office, she’s looking to make history as the state’s first ever African-American female chancellor. We need judges who have guts. She’s got my vote.

General Sessions Judge, Division III: Melissa Blackburn may be the hardest working Judge in Davison County. Civil Dockets. Criminal Dockets. The Mental Health Court. The Veterans Court. And, to be announced later today, a new project helping to move individuals ruled incompetent through the system in a way that gets them help–and maybe out of the system.

General Sessions Judge, Division VI: No matter what type of case, I’d trust Jim Todd to get it right.

General Sessions Judge, Division VII: The first 2022 election sign that I put in my yard was for Marcus Floyd. He’s a great, smart guy (and a Hillsboro High graduate), and he’ll be an asset to this city for decades to come.

General Sessions Judge, Division VIII: This is also a close one, with spirited and smart people on each side. In a close race, I tend to favor the incumbent, Rachel Bell. Some folks may complain about the start time of her dockets, but I’d point out what she’s done to help people in Davidson County avoid eviction during the pandemic with the L.E.G.A.C.Y. Housing Resource Diversionary Court and Program, which has helped thousands of tenants (and, yes, landlords–as of September 20, 2021: $18,799,705.71 had been paid to landlords), and also her long-standing expungement clinics.

General Sessions Judge, Division IX: I appreciate that, no matter the case, Judge Lynda Jones never treats any case (or litigant) as a “small” claims matter. She is focused on getting it right, including past efforts to create a business docket in General Sessions. She’s ambitious and works hard.

Circuit Court Clerk: The current clerk, Ricky Rooker, is one of the best in the state, partly because he’s been doing it for so long. Everything they do seems to take lawyers’ needs into account, and they had a smooth transition to a very effective e-filing system in 2020. Part of that success was due to Rooker having a very good deputy, Joseph Day, who is now running for Clerk. If it isn’t broke, don’t change it. I’m voting for Day.

If you were at the house party, you probably got a bit more color and background on some of these races.

You’ll notice that there are a handful of races I’m not commenting on. I haven’t voted yet, and I plan to keep on researching those. This list may evolve. I’m researching all of these until the day I cast my own; they are imporant races.

Finally, this list is biased by my own interactions, experiences, and past; please do your own research.

New Tennessee Court of Appeals Resolves Ten-Year Old Question about Post-Judgment Interest Rate

For nearly a decade, I’ve been writing about the Tennessee post-judgment interest statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121, which was amended in 2012 to change from the long-standing fixed rate of 10% to a variable rate that changes every 6 months.

I say “writing,” but others may say “complaining.” They’d probably cite this post: What I Don’t Like About the New Post-Judgment Interest Rate Statute In Tennessee (Everything).

My initial concern was one that many Tennessee lawyers shared: Because the interest rate is subject to change every six months, will the applicable rate on an existing judgment also change every six months?

Nobody knew. Not attorneys. Not court clerks. Not even the trial court judges.

In a very helpful comment to this 2020 post about the issue, Tennessee attorney Michelle Reynolds provided the best answer I’d seen (and one that I’ve since argued):

From the TNCourts.gov website: “Beginning July 1, 2012, any judgment entered will have the interest set at two percent below the formula rate published by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions as set in Public Chapter 1043. The rate does not fluctuate and remains in effect when judgment is entered.”

Of course, that’s not a case or a statute. It’s an “introductory paragraph on the Administrative Office of the Courts website.”

In an opinion issued last night, however, we have our answer!

In the case (Laura Coffey v. David L. Coffey, No. E2021-00433-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2022), the Tennessee Court of Appeals notes this long-standing confusion and then immediately dispels it.

In its analysis, the Court notes that the rate to be applied under Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121(a) is clear and unambiguous (it’s math), and it’s the entirely separate provision at Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121(b) that introduces fluctuations in the general rate. Noting the clarity in (a), the Court finds that (b) does not create ambiguity as to existing judgments.

Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121(a), the Court writes, the “applicable post-judgment interest rate does not fluctuate when applied to a particular judgment; instead, it remains the same for the entire period of time following entry of the judgment…until the judgment is paid.”

It’s always a great day when an unresolved issue gets clarity. Sometimes I make a joke that only “law nerds” will appreciate a legal development like this; for this one, though, I think all Tennessee lawyers will benefit from this opinion.

Tennessee Judgments Always Incur Post-Judgment Interest

A good rule of thumb for prevailing parties in litigation is this: If you want something, be sure to include that in the court order.

Well, duh. The Judge can’t give it to you if it’s not expressly written in the order.

A recent opinion from the Tennessee Court of Appeals (Hartigan v. Brush, No. E202001442COAR3CV, 2021 WL 4983075 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2021)), however, makes clear that post-judgment interest applies on all monetary judgments in Tennessee, no matter if the order expressly says so.

There, the Court noted that, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-122, “Interest shall be computed on every judgment…,” and, as a result, post-judgment interest is “mandatory.”

It’s an issue that’s unlikely to come up often, partially because every prevailing party generally includes an express grant in their judgment. But, when the order doesn’t expressly say it, have this recent case ready to go.

Ukraine Fundraising: I raised $1,950 for World Central Kitchen

I’ll skip to the Tl;dr part: On March 10, I donated all of my 6.5 billable hours to support Ukraine and, at $300.00 an hour, I raised $1,950.00 for World Central Kitchen’s refugee relief efforts.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much, but, to my little firm, a day’s worth of revenues is a lot.

This has been a law firm fund-raising concept that I’ve pondered for a while.

With the demands and time constraints that so many lawyers face, it’s hard to make time to volunteer at Legal Aid. But, if lawyers are already sitting at our desks, why not cut out the transit time and simply donate an hour (or more) of billable time per month to a good cause?

Of course, this grand idea works best at a big firm, where one hour a month is just a blip on an individual lawyer’s hourly billables report but, at the same time, results a substantial amount of money each month when you’ve got 40-50 lawyers participating.

Get a few law firms doing this instead of the standard “sponsor a table at a dinner” contribution, and you’re talking real money going to local charities.

So, to put my money where my mouth is, I’ll continue to do this each month, supporting different charitable causes by direct cash payments representing a billable hour.

Next month, I will donate time on April 13 to support the International Rescue Committee’s work helping Syrian refugees. I’m open to suggestions for the month after that.

And, in the interim, I promise to get back to law blogging. Thanks for your support.

We are Supporting World Central Kitchen on March 10, and We hope you will too

As some of you saw in my post from last week, my little law firm will be donating all revenue generated on March 10, 2022 to support Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.

The initial decision was based on the terrible early images from the War and, in the past week, things have only gotten worse, as the Russian attack has ravaged residential areas and evacuation routes. If families are able to make it to the border, it’s only after losing everything they owned, after hard travel in the cold, and after days with no food.

Seeing this, my family has decided to support the World Central Kitchen, which quickly mobilized along the border to provide hot meals and basic necessities to Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland and, now, are set up at eight other border crossings and also in the large cities inside Ukraine.

You can get live updates (and inspiration about kindness and humanity) via their twitter account: @WCKitchen

I encourage you to join us by donating at World Central Kitchen’s donation page.

If you do donate, please feel to let me know in the replies or comments to this post.

Note: You don’t have to be a new or an existing client to participate. Everybody is welcome to give.

On Ukraine: Tweets are Cheap, but Billable Hours Aren’t

Before law school, I majored in English, not Political Science.

So, as I see the news about the war in Ukraine, I don’t understand the politics behind the invasion (probably because there’s no just reason for this), but I absolutely see the tragedy. The fathers saying goodbye to their families. The injured and scared kids. The destroyed houses.

Photo from: https://twitter.com/verkhovna_rada/status/1498613193794625544?s=20&t=kZwUp1cKqaDLgujkNGLTWQ

I also see the bravery of the Ukrainian leaders and in the Ukrainian people. I bet there’s a hot-shot Ukrainian lawyer out there whose “to-do” list today didn’t consist of legal research, but instead defending their city from armed forces.

What would I do if that happened to my family? To my country?

Other than a few sympathetic tweets offering the typical “thoughts and prayers,” what can I do to help? I’m just a lawyer in Nashville.

Oh right. My time is valuable. Let’s donate that.

Next Thursday, March 10, I’ll donate all of my billable hours from legal work to humanitarian efforts supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.

I’m a lawyer (see above), so I’m sure you all will expect some fine print.

Here goes:

  • I will donate all billable hours, but don’t forget that I’m a small shop (so don’t expect a 24 hour day–I also do the IT and bookkeeping)
  • I’ll show my math, though, and I will post both the final tally at the end of the day, as well as the receipt for the donation (to be made on March 11)
  • I haven’t yet decided on the organization, but I’m open to suggestions for worthy organizations (my children and I are going to vote) (Edited: We are supporting World Central Kitchen)
  • If you’re a new or existing client who would like me to work on your file specifically on March 10, let me know
  • If you’re a lawyer or law firm who wants to out-donate me, you are welcome (and encouraged) to steal this idea

That last point is important.

I have the privilege and the luxury to donate my entire day to this cause. Some big law firms may not want donate 100% of the day. But can you imagine if some of Nashville’s largest law firms donated just one hour of each lawyer’s billable hours on March 10 to this?

As an aside, I also hear the skepticism about the Western world’s support for Ukraine, when there’s been an absence of similar responses for black and brown people facing similar crises. I also don’t know the answer for that, but I agree.

So, assuming this isn’t a massive failure and doesn’t send me into bankruptcy, let’s plan to do this again next month, on April 13, to help Syrian refugees.