Detainer Warrants: When can I get them Out?

Tennessee’s General Sessions Courts provide the fastest justice in the state. There, a plaintiff can file a lawsuit and, potentially, have a judgment in as early as 2-3 weeks.

No plaintiffs, however, are as eager to get to court than landlords. A common question I get is: What is the quickest court date a landlord can get?

The answer is in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-117, which provides: “The officer serving the warrant shall notify the defendant of the time and place of trial, the time not to be less than six (6) days from the date of service.”

So, in order to have a valid eviction lawsuit, you have to provide–at a minimum–six days notice from the date of service of process.

Note:  This timeline is for commercial property evictions. Residential evictions are governed by the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act , and that is it’s own blog post.



The $25,000 General Sessions Judgment Limits May Apply on Appeal, Unless the Claims are Amended

I enjoy practice in General Sessions Courts. Once you get past the utter chaos, unpredictability, and potentially long lines at the elevators, you may be able to obtain an enforceable judgment in less than 4-6 weeks after filing your lawsuit. That’s the fastest justice in the State.

Remember, though, that the monetary limit in General Sessions is $25,000.

Given the speed advantages, some lawyers will sue for a lesser amount to have their lawsuits heard in Sessions (i.e. the debt is $27,0000, and they sue for $24,999.99).  Then, if they lose the case or if it’s appealed to Circuit Court, the lawyers know they can always increase the action to the full amount in Circuit Court.

Such amendments are allowed under Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-729, which says the Circuit Court “shall allow all amendments in the form of action, the parties thereto, or the statement of the cause of action, necessary to reach the merits, upon such terms as may be deemed just and proper. The trial shall be de novo, including damages.”

But, don’t think the informality of Sessions practice carries over into Circuit Court.  The Tennessee Supreme Court’s opinion in Brown v. Roland, 357 S.W.3d 614, 616 (Tenn. 2012) held that a party is limited to their damages sought until and unless an actual amendment is made to the complaint. 
This is an interesting case, because, by implication, an amended complaint may also be required to add parties and causes of action.
In Sessions Court, it can feel like “anything goes.” It’s not a court of record, and the Judges let litigants have some procedural leeway in presenting their claims. Under the Brown case, that leeway stops upon appeal.

Read the Davidson County General Sessions Court Local Rules Before You Go There

Many lawyers (or pro se) litigants are uncomfortable in Davidson County General Sessions Court (where the jurisdiction/amounts at issue are below $25,000, with some exceptions).  Justice moves really fast in small claims court, and that’s the general complaint, that the 50-100 cases on each docket make practice there difficult.

That having been said, before you step into that fast paced world, take a moment to read the Davidson County General Sessions Court Local Rules.

Those Local Rules have answers to the following issues that come up every day:

  1. Do I need a lawyer to represent me in General Sessions?  A person can represent himself, but a non-attorney “will not be permitted to represent anyone other than him or herself in the General Sessions Courts.” See Rule 2.01. This means that a non-lawyer cannot appear and defend a case for a corporation or other business entity.
  2. Can I get a continuance on the first court date setting? Maybe. “In civil actions the Court may liberally grant a continuance on the first setting of a case or on the first setting after an indefinite continuance.” See Rule 5.01.  But, you should always call the other side and tell them you want or plan on asking for a continuance. See my # 4 advice from last year.
  3. Can cases be continued “indefinitely”?  No.  You have one year to resolve the case, and you only get three continuances. Rules 6.01 and 6.02.
  4. If I’m the Plaintiff and I don’t show, what happens to my case?  “When a case is dismissed without a trial for want of prosecution, said dismissal shall be without prejudice to either party’s right to re-file.” Rule 4.01.

That’s just a sampling of the 4 most common “rules” that everybody cites, but not everybody knows where to find the rules. If you have a sticky issue in small claims court (or if you don’t go there much), be sure to read the Local Rules before you go.

One final piece of advice: There aren’t enough elevators for the crowds that show up for Court. To be sure get into the courtroom on time, get there at least thirty minutes early for your docket.

How Small are the “Small Claims” in General Sessions Court in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, you hear lots of talk of General Sessions Court, which is Tennessee’s version of small claims court. Of course, “small” is a relative term–General Sessions Courts in Tennessee have jurisdiction to hear civil cases with as much as $25,000.00 in controversy. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-15-501.

Trivia Time: In what three situations can a creditor obtain a judgment that exceeds the $25,000 jurisdictional limit in General Sessions Court? The Answer is after the jump.

Continue reading “How Small are the “Small Claims” in General Sessions Court in Tennessee?”