Nearly ten years ago, I preached about the virtues of patience and perseverance in collection of judgments. Specifically, I discussed Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-110, which says that judgments are good for ten years. For judgment creditors, a lot can change for your judgment debtors in ten years.
I constantly tell my clients that. For example, that Nashville property contractor who was dead broke in 2010 could be on top of the world in 2018 Nashville. Just be patient.
But, don’t be too patient. As you approach the ten year mark, remember that judgments can be renewed for another ten years, using a pretty easy, straight-forward process under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.04.
Under new(-ish) Rule 69.04, this can be done via Motion, but the Motion itself must be filed prior to the expiration of the judgment. So, Tennessee creditor rights attorneys, the burden is on you to make sure you’re making a list and checking it twice, looking for judgments that are nine years old, right?
What happens if your law firm gets the judgment for a client but fails to renew the judgment?
Like many issues, it depends, but a brand new opinion from the Tennessee Court of Appeals discusses this issue. The case is Linda Rozen v. Wolff Ardis, P.C., W201900396COAR3CV, 2019 WL 6876769 (Tenn. App. Dec. 17, 2019).
In that case, the law firm obtained a judgment, generally discussed the 10 year requirement with the client, and, years later, no renewal request was made; the clients sued for malpractice.
There’s a lot to unpack in this case, but here’s my quick take-away:
When you get a judgment for a client, tell them that it will expire in ten years. As part of that message, remind them that people change firms, lawyers die, files get closed, files get dormant and sent to storage, things change, but, no matter what happens, if they want you to renew the judgment in ten years, they have to call you and specifically ask you to do it. Your representation does not necessarily include this renewal request, unless you and the client agree it does.
That was a decisive fact here, that the law firm had put the client on notice that specific action was needed to renew this judgment before ten years passed. As that ten year mark approached and passed, the client didn’t raise the issue, either by confirming that the firm did it or, alternatively, suing them for malpractice within one year of the failure to renew it.
So, in a perfect world, we calendar up all our judgments for renewal and we discuss the action with our clients in advance and mutually agree on an engagement for a renewal.
But, in reality, a lot of things can change in ten years. A good practice is to make sure that the client understands that it has a responsibility in ten years to notify you that it wants you to take this action.