Please Vote For Me in the Nashville Bar Association Board of Directors Election: Here’s Why:

I’m hoping you don’t have election fatigue, because I need your vote in November…

I’ve been nominated to serve on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Bar Association. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be receiving your ballot via email, and you’ll be asked to vote for 6 out of the 14 candidates.

Here’s why you should vote for me:

I care about the Nashville Bar Association. I’ve been a member my entire legal career, and this is a natural extension of my service to the NBA. I’ve written Nashville Bar Journal cover stories. I’ve volunteered at their community events and legal clinics. I’ve taught continuing legal education courses. I host the NBA’s annual karaoke happy hour event (which required me to purchase a professional grade karaoke system, so “Win-Win” for everybody).

I can help the Nashville Bar Association make our legal community better. The reason I donate so much of my time to the NBA is that I care about making Nashville a better place to practice law. Plus, after 21 years of practice, I’ve got pretty strong opinions and a unique perspective, drawn from a robust practice in so many different courts.

I mean, seriously, do any the other nominees recognize the historic significance of this staircase?

There are all kinds of reasons why somebody would want to be on the Board, but I’m doing this to advocate for lawyers. Let’s push for common sense decisions on staircases. Let’s push for comprehensive measures in response to COVID. Let’s push for advances in technology and e-filing. Let’s talk about diversity in the bar and also the bench.

It’s not incorrect to say that the Lawyers’ Association for Women has made me their “highest endorsed candidate.”

I stand up for what I care about. When I left Bone McAllester, one of the IT staff members told me, “David, you are one of the realest people I’ve ever met.” It was the best compliment I’ve received in years. Don’t we all want to be seen as authentic and honest about the way we act and communicate?

If you read this blog, you know I’m not afraid to say what I think, and that’s how I’d approach this board service. To make real change, you have to identify clear goals and use your voice to take a stand. For me, this isn’t about resume-padding or networking, it’s about finding ways to make our legal community an easier and better place to practice.

A few months ago, I started my own boutique law firm (more on that–a lot more–in a later post). With COVID and all the changes in my own practice, I had considered declining the nomination. Was this this best time to take on this task?

In the end, though, I decided that this is a perfect time. With all the uncertainty from COVID, rapid technological advances, and fundamental changes in the way we work, what an awesome time to be part of the local bar’s leadership. Plus, as one of the only nominees at a small/solo firm, who else would speak for me on the Board?

Vote for me.

Also, tell your friends.

The state of the Nashville legal world, 8 months Into COVID

Today marks the 8 month mark of when, basically, people started taking COVID seriously.

On March 10, 2020, I had travelled to Louisville and was staying at the gorgeous and totally empty Omni Hotel, to interview for the open Louisville Bankruptcy Judgeship. That was on a Tuesday, and, on Saturday, my family was scheduled to depart for a spring break Disney Cruise.

(Spoiler-alert: Neither the job nor the cruise happened.)

My view entering the Louisville Omni.

While sitting in the Omni’s gorgeous and empty food hall, I read an article in the local paper about how Washington DC’s first known COVID patient had stayed at the Omni the week before. I realized the magnitude quickly (as well as why I was the only guest at the hotel).

In fact, on the drive back to Nashville, I coordinated my wife buying $400 of frozen pizzas and toilet paper, and I pondered stopping at Gander Mountain in Bowling Green to buy pre-apocalypse weapons and ammo.

(Spoiler-alert: The pizzas and toilet paper did happen, but the Anthony armory remains stocked only with hand-to-hand combat accessories.)

Continue reading “The state of the Nashville legal world, 8 months Into COVID”

New Court of Appeals opinion affirms landlord’s duty to mitigate damages on Tennessee leases

In a post from last month, I mentioned that, when a commercial tenant defaults and leaves a leased property, the landlord is faced with a hard decision: File the lawsuit for unpaid rent now, or do you wait 6-9 months until a replacement tenant can be found?

One thing we know for sure: A landlord can’t just file a lawsuit for all the rent due for the remainder of the term. Instead, the landlord has a duty to mitigate its losses, which means–in this situation–to try to find a replacement tenant.

Last week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reaffirmed this duty in Loans YES v. Kroger Limited Partnership I, et. al. No. M201901506-COAR3CV, 2020 WL 6386884 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2020).

As a quick summary, the Court makes the following points:

Continue reading “New Court of Appeals opinion affirms landlord’s duty to mitigate damages on Tennessee leases”

Where are all the bankruptcy filings in Nashville?

Many years ago, I got a call from a bank attorney who was in the middle of a 4 day trial in Williamson County. It was a lawsuit by a bank to collect its post-foreclosure deficiency balance. The lawyer called me to tell me that the debtor’s attorney had printed out my very own blog post and had introduced it into evidence as a learned treatise under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 618 in order to cross-exam the bank’s expert witness.

While I was flattered (my initial reaction was to ask if the Chancellor was impressed), it was also strange–given my long allegiance to banks and creditors in litigation–that Creditor Rights 101 would be used against a bank. (Also, that debtor’s counsel must have been desperate if he resorted to using my blog post as his Exhibit 15).

Regardless, man-o-man, beware of using this law blog as learned evidence of anything, because I can be really wrong sometimes.

Like, on April 3, 2020, when I boldly predicted that bankruptcy filings in the Middle District of Tennessee would hit an all-time high in June 2020.

It didn’t happen. Not even close. Literally, the opposite happened.

As of today, October 29, 2020, there have been 4,820 bankruptcy cases filed in the Middle District of Tennessee. That sounds like a lot, but, for comparison’s sake, consider that the 4,820th case was filed on the following dates over the past decade: July 30, 2019; July 20, 2018; July 18, 2017; July 6, 2016; July 15, 2015; June 17, 2014; May 31, 2013; May 23, 2012; May 11, 2011; and May 4, 2010.

Not only are we not hitting a record high, but, instead, new bankruptcies are being filed at a record low pace.

As late as July, we were still wrong about the future of bankruptcy (I say “we” because the Nashville Post joined me on the bad predictions).

So, today’s news brings more predictions (but, this time, far less bold) via this American Bankruptcy Institute story, which predicts that the new bankruptcies are coming…in 2021.

“As stimulus checks and other forms of temporary relief run out, experts are projecting an increase in personal bankruptcy filings, which have so far been muted during the coronavirus pandemic,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Only a new stimulus program targeting individuals or government actions forgiving or deferring student loans can keep individual filings from rising.”

In light of all this, I’m not making more predictions, because these are unpredictable times. Our General Sessions Court shuts down evictions and collections dockets, then re-opens them, then drastically limits them, and then reopened them again. People are afraid to leave their houses. Banks are afraid to foreclose on those houses. Lawyers are afraid to go to their offices.

The bankruptcies are coming. But who knows when.

Finally, to all you crafty debtor lawyers out there: I can edit any these blog posts on a moment’s notice.

It may be time to start filing Davidson County evictions in Circuit Court.

The new 25 case limit on the civil dockets in Davidson County General Sessions has been the problem we thought it would be.

As of last Thursday, the next available civil hearing date for new and pending cases was December 9, 2020.

Since last Thursday, 357 new cases have been filed in Sessions Court.

Given the usual holiday court schedule, I’d bet that–as of this blog post— there are no more open civil dockets in 2020.

The Nashville Bar Association hosted a General Sessions Court Town Hall today to talk about these issues, but, given the unprecedented nature of this problem, nobody knows what’s next and how to solve it. Will there be afternoon dockets? Staggered morning dockets? Video appearances?

I’ve received a handful of calls from local lawyers, for advice on how to navigate all this. In some cases, the best move is to file the matter and just get a date locked down before things get worse (even if it’s in mid-January).

Another option, though, if you aren’t going to get into Court until January or February, is to file your commercial eviction lawsuits in Circuit Court (which has jurisdiction, per Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-108).

If you file an eviction action in Circuit, today, and get it served this week, you may be able to get a judgment by early December (or early January).

And, yes, I know I’ve criticized lawyers for filing Sessions-sized and eviction matters in Circuit Court (a move that generally presents no tangible strategic advantage, other than the lawyers get more billable hours).

But these unprecedented times call for novel ideas.

After a judgment for possession, does res judicata prevent a landlord from taking a money judgment?

I represent a lot of commercial landlords, and, when there’s a payment default and they want to evict a tenant, there’s an early strategy question that they all face: (1) Do we sue for possession only; or (2) Do we sue for money and unpaid rent (through the date of the court hearing)?

It’s a nuanced question. Most landlords choose # 2, especially since detainer lawsuits are filed in General Sessions Court and, due to a little-known exception, you can take a huge money judgment in “small” claims court.

But, they’ll generally say, what about the unpaid rent for time periods after we get a judgment and evict them from the property? That’s a second lawsuit. Isn’t there a rule against two lawsuits on the same issues?

Yes, it’s called res judicata, which we talked about last year.

So, can you sue a tenant two times on the same lease agreement?

Continue reading “After a judgment for possession, does res judicata prevent a landlord from taking a money judgment?”

Davidson County General Sessions Caps Dockets at 25 Cases: This is a Big Problem

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.

Spoiler-alert: The 25 case limit is a problem.

Continue reading “Davidson County General Sessions Caps Dockets at 25 Cases: This is a Big Problem”

CLE You Can Use: The TBA’s Creditor Practice Annual Forum is this Wednesday

If you need CLE credit and want to learn more about creditors’ issues, the Tennessee Bar Association has a great course coming up this week: This year’s Creditors Practice Annual Forum is this Wednesday, September 30, 2020.

This is generally an in-person event at the TBA headquarters in downtown Nashville, but, this year, it’ll be entirely online (for obvious reasons).

I’m the Chair of the TBA’s Creditors Section for 2020, and it was my job to recruit all the speakers and create the sessions. The online format really made for some fun choices, including finding speakers who otherwise wouldn’t be available to speak at a live event in Nashville.

We’ve got a Judge from Shelby County. A digital media specialist from Atlanta. A bankruptcy debtor’s lawyer from Jackson. A former creditor lawyer turned tech guru from Memphis. And, to everybody’s surprise–a creditor lawyer from California! (Note: Nobody even knew that California had creditor lawyers; we all assumed that they only had different levels of debtor focused lawyers.)

In all seriousness, it’ll be a great program. Topics include:

“A Creditor’s Rights: Top Issues and Common Mistakes From the Judge’s Perspective” by Hon. Phyllis Gardner, Hon. Lynda Jones and moderated by Kara Reese.

“The Future of Collections and Bankruptcy in the New Recession” by Monique Jewett-Brewster, Tracy L. Schweitzer and Jerome Teel, Jr.

“Legal Technology Update: Zoom, Slack, and Other Things You Never Realized You Need” by Zack Glaser, Lori Gonzalez and Kim Bennett.

And, remember, your Tennessee Bar Association membership includes 3 free CLE credits, so, basically, this will be free for you all. Thank me later!

How your registered agent’s address could get you sued in their county.

Earlier this week, a lawsuit was filed in Davidson County Chancery Court by a landlord to collect $130,697.44 in unpaid rent from a Romano’s Macaroni Grill located in Rutherford County. There was no allegation that any of the facts of the case occurred in Davidson County or that the parties contractually agreed that the venue for any disputes would be in Nashville.

Should this lawsuit be dismissed for improper venue, where the business, all operations, and the leased premises were all in Rutherford County?

Not necessarily. Here’s why: All of the Defendants use corporate registered agents whose offices are based in Davidson County, and that subjects them to venue in Davidson County.

When analyzing venue for causes of action under Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-4-101(a), a defendant can be “found” in “any county wherein it has an office for the furtherance of its business activities.”

Tennessee courts have said that a registered agent’s address is an office for the furtherance of the defendant’s business activities, and it doesn’t matter that the defendant doesn’t actually operate a business out of that address or doesn’t otherwise have any other connection to that county. See Fed. Exp. v. The Am. Bicycle Grp., LLC, No. E200701483COAR9CV, 2008 WL 565687, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 4, 2008).

Maybe this isn’t a big deal–most of these corporate agents are located in Davidson County, and Nashville uniformly has very strong courts and judges.

But, Tennessee is a very, very long state. It’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re a company in Greenville or Memphis, and you’re selecting a registered agent.

The Palm and the Nashville Hilton’s litigation over unpaid COVID rent has touched almost every trial court in Davidson County.

As you all know, The Palm restaurant in Nashville sued the Nashville Hilton in July. At the time, The Palm was four months in arrears in its payment of rent.

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).