PAINE ON PROCEDURE: Practical Advice for Collecting a Judgment

My guess is that the civil procedure most important to plaintiff clients is least known to their lawyers. So grab a copy of Tennessee Rule 69. You need not bother with Federal Rule 69; federal courts use state procedure.

As soon as you win at trial, file certified copies of your judgment in the register’s office of every county where the defendant/judgment debtor owns real property. That will give you a judgment lien against the realty for 10 years. Moreover, you can move to extend the judgment every decade for an additional 10 years. It’s a no lose motion. File copies of the order granting the motion in the same registers’ offices.

Once your lien is perfected, no levy is needed for real property. It can be sold by auction under the procedure in Rule 69.07(4).

Personal property also can be sold by auction under Rule 69.06(3). A levy is accomplished by the sheriff “exercising control over the judgment debtor’s personalty.”

Garnishment can be delicious. Take depositions (“discovery in aid of execution”) of the judgment debtor and his or her significant others. I once had a debtor’s former girlfriend come to my office to tell me where the liar’s loot was located. My pro bono client collected every penny owed.

You’ll find some statutes in the Code conflicting with Rule 69. But don’t worry about them. They are “of no further force or effect” under Tenn. Code Ann. §16-3-406.


Donald F. Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute.