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2014 Tennessee Legislature Makes Judgments Permanent if Injury or Death Caused by Criminal Conduct

Posted on Aug 3 2014 9:33PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Legislature made an interesting change to the typical rule in Tennessee that judgments are only good for ten years unless renewed (See T.C.A. § 28-3-110 and Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 69.04).  The Tennessee Legislature in the 2014 Tennessee legislative session passed Public Chapter No. 596 which was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on March 28, 2014.  This statute essentially allows a party to make a judgment permanent (as opposed to the current law where it expires after 10 years unless renewed) if the injury or death was caused by criminal conduct.  This act applies to any civil judgments that go into effect after July 1, 2014.  Additionally, there is actually a way for this act to apply to judgments entered before July 1, 2014, if a specific procedure is followed.

 

The new T.C.A. § 28-3-110(B)(1) provides as follows:

 

(b)(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), there is no time within which a judgment or decree of a court of record entered on or after July 1, 2014, must be acted upon in the following circumstances:

(A) The judgment is for the injury or death of a person that resulted from the judgment debtor's criminal conduct; and

(B) The judgment debtor is convicted of a criminal offense for the conduct that resulted in the injury or death; or

(C) The civil judgment is originally an order of restitution converted to a civil judgment pursuant to § 40–35–304.

(2)(A) Prior to entry of the judgment, the judge shall make a determination on the record that the plaintiff's injury or death was the result of the defendant's criminal conduct and that the defendant's conduct resulted in a criminal conviction.

(B) When entering a civil judgment on or after July 1, 2014, to which this subsection applies, both the trial judge and clerk shall sign and note the existence of the conviction on the judgment document, and the clerk shall also make appropriate docket notations. Such signatures and notations shall be sufficient evidence that the judgment is valid until paid in full or otherwise discharged as authorized by law.

 

As a result, when there is a judgment for injury or death of a person that resulted from someone’s criminal conduct and there is a conviction for the criminal offense related to the conduct, then there is no longer a ten year time limit that applies to that judgment.  In other words, the judgment can be executed on forever if the judgment comes within this statute.  The statute requires the judge to make a specific determination that the injury or death was a result of defendant’s criminal conduct and that there was a criminal conviction.  The trial judge and the clerk of the court are then required to sign and note the existence of a conviction on the judgment docket.  This stands as evidence complying with this statute to make the judgment last forever until paid or otherwise discharged by law.

 

Additionally, if any judgment was awarded prior to July 1, 2014, but is still valid, then that judgment can be presented to the clerk under this same statute under subsection (c).  Subsection (c) provides as follows:

 

(c)(1) Notwithstanding subsection (b), if a person was awarded a judgment meeting the criteria of subdivision (b)(1) but the judgment was entered prior to July 1, 2014, and is still valid as of the date it is presented to the clerk pursuant to this subsection, the statute of limitations on such judgment set out in (a) shall be tolled if the person:

(A) Obtains a certified copy of the defendant's judgment of conviction from the clerk of the court in which the conviction occurred showing that the conviction meets the criteria of subdivision (b)(1)(A) and (B);

(B) Obtains a certified copy of the person's civil judgment that was based on the defendant's criminal conduct;

(C) Completes, under penalty of perjury, an affidavit, in substantially the form set out in subsection (d).

(2) The clerk shall ensure that the documents presented are those required by subdivision (1). If they are the correct documents, the clerk shall record the documents and from the date of recordation, the statute of limitations of the person's civil judgment shall be tolled.

 

As a result, a prior judgment that is still valid can be extended permanently if a certified copy of the defendant’s judgment of conviction that shows compliance with subsection (b) is filed with the circuit court clerk.  Additionally, a certified copy of the civil judgment must be filed with the court.  Finally, an affidavit as outlined in the statute must be filed with the court.  If this is completed then there is no statute of limitations for execution on that judgment even if it was entered prior to July 1, 2014.

 

As a result, anyone who currently has an outstanding judgment that is based on criminal conduct needs to comply with the provisions in subsection (c) in order to permanently extend this judgment.  Further, in the future, any judgments that are based upon criminal conduct can be made permanent.  Counsel that practice in Tennessee need to be very familiar with this statute because if you obtain a judgment that falls within this statute and you do not make the judgment permanent under this statute, and it expires without collection, this is likely legal malpractice.  Although, likely any claim for legal malpractice under this scenario is barred by the new Tennessee statute of repose for legal malpractice which is now 5 years from the date of the act or omission that constitutes legal malpractice.  This situation would therefore be another example where the new 5 year statute of repose protects the attorney even before the client would be aware of the occurrence of the malpractice.  However, the statute of repose will likely not protect you if your judgment is going to expire in the next few years and you do not take the steps necessary to extend the judgment permanently under this statute (or at least extend it for 10 years under the renewal provision which would then get you past the 5 year statute of repose).   

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Post Judgment Motions, 2014 Tennessee Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Statute of Repose, Miscellaneous, Wrongful Death
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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