Davidson County General Sessions Court (also known as “small claims” court) is the wild, wild west of our local courts. Things move fast, many parties are not represented by lawyers, and there are dozens of cases on each docket. Because the jurisdiction of General Sessions goes up to $25,000 (sometimes more) and a creditor can get a judgment in as little as a month, I file a number of my Nashville creditor lawsuits there.
The prevailing party usually writes up his own judgment, and, in the rush of cases, the judgment may sometimes include a clerical error, either in the name of the parties, the computation of the amount of the judgment, or other terms. When there’s an error, the party has the right to appeal the whole thing under Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-5-108, but the best practice is to move to correct the “clerical error” in the judgment under Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-727.
The application of that statute was discussed in a Tennessee Attorney General Opinion (No. 04-090, May 10, 2044), applying Rule 60.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure applies in Sessions Courts.
Interestingly, the Opinion says that a litigant can only “correct” a “clerical error” in a judgment, and expressly stops short of any relief that a litigant might have under Rule 59 to “alter or amend” a judgment. This means that alleged errors on a point of law are not in the same category as clerical errors and cannot be changed.
So, if you get back to your office and realize you’ve written the wrong amount on the Judgment–or the wrong responsible party–you’ve got relief. Rule 60.01 does not contain a time limitation, and corrections may be made at any time upon the court’s initiative or upon motion of either party. Parties whose rights may be modified by the correction must be given notice of the Motion. Decisions to correct are within the discretion of the Judge. Obvious errors are usually corrected.
I’m a creditor rights attorney, and, with the economy the way it is, I’m filing collection lawsuits left and right.
In most cases, the borrowers are too broke to hire a lawyer to respond, so they ignore the lawsuit and let a judgment be entered against them. In some cases, however, the borrowers are pro-active and call me to make a settlement proposal.
In the past, when property still had equity and people were just one loan application away from a $40,000 Home Equity Loan, creditors weren’t listening to low-ball offers. Even today, it’s still not true that banks will happily accept 10% of whatever they’re owed.
If you’re going to make a low-ball offer, support it with proof that you’re paying them the last pennies you have. You need to show the creditor:
- A recent financial statement;
- A list of all assets, such as cars, real property, cash, other bank accounts;
- A list of all debts (which shows the creditor who else is chasing you);
- Copies of recent bank statements;
- Recent pay stubs;
- A budget showing your monthly expenses; and
- Anything else that proves that you don’t have the money to make a better offer.
Again, the rumors of debt settlements for pennies on the dollar are wildly exaggerated. Creditors will accept discounted payments, but they aren’t approaching these proposals blindly. When in doubt, they decline bad proposals.
If you want a steep discount, you have to work for it, and assembling the information listed above is step one in the process.
To creditors’ chagrin, judgments aren’t enforceable across state lines. Before a Tennessee judgment can be enforced against the debtor’s assets in Florida, the creditor has to “domesticate” that judgment, which requires that a second action be filed in the new state to recognize the out-of-state judgment.
Fortunately, this process is governed by a commonly adopted act, the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-101, et. seq.), which creates a stream-lined process for creditors to follow.
It’s generally just a two step process. The creditor must (1) file an authenticated copy of the judgment and (2) file a supporting Affidavit. In most cases, the judgment of the sister state will be entitled to “full faith and credit” by the new court.
There are limited grounds for attack on domestication. The defendant doesn’t get to re-litigate the case; instead, he or she can only contest procedural defects, like no service of process or fraud. These issues must be raised in the 30 days after service of the domestication action.
On June 30, 2011, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a new opinion, at Cadlerock, LLC v. Sheila R. Weber, which provides a good summary of the issues and law presented on foreign judgment enforcement actions. This Act isn’t often litigated, but this is a good case to have handy, just in case.