Advice for New Lawyers: Always be Prepared, Even for the Easy Arguments

I’m not going to use this post to complain about millennials. Instead, I’m going to complain a little bit about lawyers who are lazy and don’t think for themselves. But, sometimes, this means younger lawyers who happen to be born in the “millennial footprint” (defined as being born from 1982 to 2004).

In the not so recent past, another lawyer agreed to announce a foreclosure continuance for me. This is one of the easiest tasks a degreed lawyer can handle. In fact, some firms send people in Harley Davidson t-shirts to do this, so it’s not quite rocket science.

So, I told the lawyer that the sale was at the Register of Deeds and started to walk away. Then, he asked, “where is that?” I’ll save you the annoying details, but it involved ten minutes of my time showing him how awesome google is for answering questions.

So, recently, I was headed to General Sessions Court with the intent of asking for a “free” continuance in a matter that was set for the first time. If you read this blog, you know that I got to Sessions Court all the time. And, without a doubt, the Court will grant you a free continuance on the first setting of a matter.

But, instead of just going to court and citing “this is what you Judges always do,” I thought I’d be prepared with, you know, the actual legal authority for this. So, I followed my own advice and looked at the Local Rules for General Sessions Court. And, I made the request with complete confidence that it would be granted.

Of course, when I asked for the continuance, the Judge gave it to me without question, but I was prepared for the worst case scenario.

Ok, this blog post doesn’t have a specific point, other than to note that I–having appeared in Sessions Court at least 500 times–took the time to be prepared with legal authority for a very routine request.

So, maybe that’s the point. Lawyering is hard, and so is being a Judge. Always be prepared for the worst case scenario, and take the time on your own initiative to be prepared.

 

Ex-Tennessee Titan Sued by Former Landlords for Property Damage

Real Estate is hot in Nashville. That’s not a news flash. In fact, unless you were burned in the economic downtown, you’ve probably always thought that real estate is a safe investment, either has an appreciating asset or as an income producing asset.

With high-end real estate, the income possibilities in this current market are endless. Short term rentals to tourists on AirBNB. Long term leases to health care executives. Leases to country music stars or professional athletes.

Well, one Nashville couple has learned the hard way that leases to star football players may require a greater security deposit.

In a lawsuit filed against former Tennessee Titan running back Zach Brown, a landlord for rental property has sued in Nashville’s Davidson Chancery Court (Rental Lawsuit), alleging failure to pay rent. After they were awarded a judgment in a prior detainer action, they were surprised to find the property in terrible condition, the lawsuit alleges.

The $59,286.85 in damages alleged includes claims of: animal teeth marks on staircases and doors; stains on carpet; “damage to the walls by what appears to be repeated throws of footballs and darts;” holes in the wall; and door frame damage “from where it appears a locked door was forced open.”

These are just allegations, but, long story short, a property owner opens the door to deterioration and damage when he or she rents to a stranger. There’s no such thing as easy money, and the landlord / tenant model has its fair share of risks.

 

 

 

15 Day Continuance Limit on Detainer Actions

A few weeks ago, I talked about detainer warrants and how fast a landlord can get an eviction hearing set (a minimum of six days from service of process).

A caveat, however, is that many courts will allow continuances, especially when a plaintiff has set a hearing on such short notice. Some courts, like Davidson County, have Local Rules that expressly allow some continuances.

But, the ability to get a continuance in detainer actions isn’t absolute. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-118 provides that the “general sessions judge may, at the request of either party, and on good reason being assigned, postpone the trial to any time not exceeding fifteen (15) days.”

In eviction actions, a landlord isn’t getting paid, so the delay costs the landlord both time and money.

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.

 

 

There’s a 15 Day Limit to Continuances in Tennessee Detainer Actions

Landlording is a hard business. If you don’t think so, wait until the first time you have to sue your tenant to evict them.

In Tennessee, the process is done by a “detainer” warrant, and it’s a full blown court proceeding, which is generally done in General Sessions Court.

In these proceedings, the landlord wants the proceeding resolved as soon as possible, while the tenant wants to stretch out the proceeding as long as possible. Who doesn’t like to live rent free, right?

Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-118 provides some protection for landlords. That statute allows the judge to continue a matter, but only to a time not exceeding 15 days.

The only exception the statute provides that would allow for a longer period of time is: (1) if the parties agree to a longer time; (2) the 15 days ends at a time when there’s no court; or (3) the party asking for the continuance pays “the costs.” (Here, the costs means they pay, at the time of the request, the rent due for that period, plus any other amounts due/incurred during that period.)

So, the tenant might get a delay–note that the statute isn’t absolute, it says “may”–but there’s an absolute limit to the delay. No Tennessee case–published or unpublished–provides any exception that allows for a longer continuance to this statute.

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.

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