In The News

When Your Out of State Debtor Banks at a National Bank, You May Not Need to Domesticate Your Judgment

On my Creditor Rights 101 blog, I talked about the process of domestication of judgments, which is basically the process by which you make a judgment from one state enforceable in another state. You see, a judgment awarded in Tennessee can only reach a debtor's assets located inside the State of Tennessee. So, if you have a judgment against somebody who lives in Texas, you may have to file a second lawsuit in Texas to attach his assets.

But don't go buy a pair of cowboy boots just yet.

I mean, sure, if he owns land in Texas,  owns a car that's registered in Texas, or has a million dollars in cash under his Texas bed, then your Tennessee judgment is not going to be effective to execute on those assets. To get those, you need to go through the domestication process, which results in your out of state judgment being recognized by that foreign state as a valid judgment for enforcement in that state.

But, here's a trick: What if the debtor has all his assets in that foreign state, but he banks at a national bank with offices all over the country? And what if that bank has a branch in Tennessee? The answer is that you can levy on that bank account.

So, debtors with accounts at Wells Fargo Bank, National Association and Bank of America, watch out.

Want to Avoid Garnishment of Your Wages? Find a Job Where You are Paid in Cash Tips

Judgment debtors with non-traditional employment are always a headache to collect from. This includes self-employed people, independent contractors, and people who work for tips.

Here, I'm talking about waiters, valets, and anybody else who may earn a nominal hourly rate, but the bulk of their income comes from tips or gratuities. How do you garnish $5 in cash handed to a valet?

In Tennessee, you can't. The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently considered the issue of whether tips reported by the Garnishee's employees are to be included in the calculation of disposable earnings for the purposes of garnishment in determining the withholding under the garnishment statute, Tenn.Code Ann. § 26–2–106.

This case was Erlanger Med. Ctr. v. Strong, 382 S.W.3d 349, 351 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012). In that case, the judgment debtor was a server at Shoney's.  In deciding whether tips could be garnished, the Court looked at how "wages" was defined in Tenn.Code Ann. § 26–2–102 (which suggested that tips are included), but the Court went on to note that federal law excludes tips from garnishment because tips "do  not pass to the employer."

This makes sense, because how can an employer withhold 25% of funds that it never has control over?

As a result, a judgment debtor whose primary income comes from tips and gratuities (that do not pass through the employer's hands) may be able to escape garnishment.

But, where the tips are paid via the employer, there's still a chance that those funds can be captured. Since at least 75% of restaurant transactions are paid via credit card (including payment of tips), there's a strong argument that such tips could be garnished if the employer disbursed those tips in the form of a paycheck.

Don't Let Your Post-Foreclosure Rights Expire: Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-118(d) Imposes a Two Year Statute of Limitations on Deficiency Lawsuits

Last week, a local collections lawyer conceded, in open court, that collection cases rarely have interesting issues involved. This case was different, the lawyer argued, because it involved interpretation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-118(d), which has not yet been discussed in any Tennessee opinion.

This is the new foreclosure deficiency statute, and I've dealt with this law a few different times. Here's a blog post about the first judicial opinion defining what constitutes a reasonable bid price at foreclosure under the statute.

I've also noted that the statute shortens the statute of limitations on pursuing post-foreclosure deficiency lawsuits. Specifically, the statute says:

(d)(1) Any action for a deficiency judgment under this section shall be brought not later than the earlier of:

(A) Two (2) years after the date of the trustee's or foreclosure sale, exclusive of any period of time in which a petition for bankruptcy is pending; or

(B) The time for enforcing the indebtedness as provided for under §§ 28-1-102 and 28-2-111.

So, to collect your debt after a foreclosure, you have to act fast in Tennessee. While two years doesn't sound like a short time frame, it can be, where the creditor spends time on eviction, selling the property, or even selling the deficiency debt to a third party.

The statute has a September 1, 2010 effective date, so the courts may still be dealing with deficiencies from both the pre-statute and post-statute time periods.

Always be on the look-out for this issue. In the "interesting" case that I mentioned above, the foreclosure occurred in February 2011, with the lawsuit filed in February 2014. In response to this issue, Plaintiff's counsel confidently cited the general six year statute of limitations on breach of contracts (Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-109). The Court rightfully held that the more specific timelines of the foreclosure deficiency statute controlled and dismissed the action.

Who says collection cases aren't interesting? We made law that day!

 

Is it OK to Google a Client? Of Course It Is. I'm Probably Googling You Right Now.

The American Bar Association Journal recently posted an article called "Is it OK to Google a client?" The story compares the act to a physician searching for information about patients online, which the story suggests is a violation of the patient's privacy expectations.

Frankly, I was a little surprised at this article, because: (1) it's the 21st century; and (2) when I get a call from a new client or a lawyer referring me work, the first thing I do is google them. Sometimes, I run the searches while I am talking to them on the phone.

Why? Because, as a lawyer, you are an extension of the client. A quick google search reveals their business page, news stories about them, and a general sense of "who they are." By hiring you, a client asks you to advocate for their position. Wouldn't it be relevant to see who it is that you're going to stake some part of your professional reputation on?

Let's be honest, the number # 1 test for a prospective client is "Is this a Crazy Person?" (Closely followed by: "Can this client pay my fees?")

Once you represent them, it'd be malpractice not to have googled the client. What if the client was making statements online (or posting videos or photos) that have a direct bearing on their case? If you don't find it, you can be sure that opposing counsel will.

Speaking of which, don't think for a second that I don't google opposing counsel and/or opposing parties. In fact, one of the best items a creditor can obtain on a credit application is an e-mail address, which I've called the 21st century fingerprint. Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are all fair game.

What a strange article for the American Bar Association. I'm going to google the author now.

 

 

How to Conduct a Sheriff's Sale of Real Property in Tennessee: It Depends on Who You Ask

A few months ago, the Tennessee Bar Journal ran an article by Knoxville legal luminary Don Paine called "Practical Advice for Collecting a Judgment."  Clearly, this article got my attention.

In it, Paine outlines how to obtain a judgment lien on real property and how to ultimately sell the property pursuant to that lien. His analysis begins and ends with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69, which provides that a judgment lien creditor shall file a motion requesting that the court order a sale. In fact, Rule 69.07(4) specifically says "[a]s long as a judgment lien is effective, no levy is necessary"--just file a Motion.

Rule 67.04 provides a specific procedure for a Sheriff's Sale of real property (i.e. 30 days advance notice; 3 total publications; distribution of proceeds).

But, elsewhere in Tennessee statutes, there's a different procedure for sheriff's execution sales of real property. Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-5-101 lays out its own set of rules and requirements, which are differ in minor ways to Rule 69 (i.e. 20 days advance notice).

And, having done my own Sheriff's Sale earlier this summer, I chuckled when I saw Paine's article. After I had a Rule 69.07 Motion granted and asked the Clerk to initiate the sale process, the Clerk and Master on my case ignored my Order Granting Motion for Sale, telling me, instead, I need to accomplish the sale by levy and execution.

Side note: One of the things that makes collections interesting is that you're not just dealing with a Judge anymore, you're dealing with a Clerk, who may have their own opinions about how things are done.

So, how do you reconcile these differing procedures? And, trust me, these mechanical / procedural issues come up all the time.

Paine's answer is simple: Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-3-406, when a Rule is in conflict with any other law, the Rule prevails.

But, as a practical matter, try telling that to the Clerk, when they say "You need to file a Levy."

On my sale, here's what I did: I did both. I had an Order and then issued a Levy on the real property, pursuant to my Order. When the requirements differed, I used the procedure that complied with both.

Sometimes, being right is less important than getting the job done.