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The Secret of Eternal Life
Follow Rule 69.04 and Save Your Client’s Credit Judgment from an Untimely Death
Tennessee judgments are good for 10 years. Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-110(2) limits the life of a judgment and provides that “actions on judgments and decrees of courts of record of this or any other state or government … shall be commenced within 10 years after the cause of action accrued.” Shepard v. Lanier defines the time the statute of limitations begins to run, holding that the time runs from the entry of judgment, and is not tolled by an appeal. This 10-year limitation also applies to general sessions court judgments through the catch-all provision of Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-110(3). But that is not the end of the story, because aging judgments may be extended to infinity and beyond.
Historically, a diligent judgment creditor could revive a judgment by filing a scire facias or bringing a new action on the judgment within the 10-year statute of limitations. A successful judgment creditor’s revived judgment would be good for another 10 years. Since there is no limitation on how many times a judgment could be revived, it is theoretically immortal. The procedure for reviving judgments dates back to the earliest times in Tennessee jurisprudence, and the local procedures and practices that have developed over time in the various circuit, chancery and general sessions courts can vary greatly. Because of this, checking with the court clerk regarding local procedural matters is a good practice, as long as you satisfy yourself that the local customs and procedures comport with Tennessee law.
In 2004, the Tennessee Supreme Court amended Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 69.04 to provide for a simple, uniform way to extend the life of a judgment. In enacting the amended Rule, the legislature did not repeal the law in effect at the time the new rule was adopted. The Advisory Commission Comment to the 2004 amendment stated the “intent is to consolidate procedures established by statute, court precedent, and custom into a single orderly rule.” Since statutes that conflict with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure must be given effect to the extent possible, laws and procedures existing at the time the legislature enacted the amended Rule that are consistent or supplementary may still be effective in reviving judgments. Rule 69.04 provides such a simple method for extending a judgment, however, you should eschew former methods for reviving judgments.
The Rule itself provides the simple procedure:
Within 10 years from entry of a judgment, the judgment creditor whose judgment remains unsatisfied may move the court for an order requiring the judgment debtor to show cause why the judgment should not be extended for an additional 10 years. A copy of the order shall be mailed by the judgment creditor to the last known address of the judgment debtor. If sufficient cause is not shown within 30 days of mailing, another order shall be entered extending the judgment for an additional 10 years. The same procedure can be repeated within any additional 10-year period until the judgment is satisfied. —Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.04.
Broken down, you can follow a four-step process to extend the life of a judgment.
First, file a motion for a show cause order requiring the judgment debtor to tell the court why the judgment should not be extended for an additional 10 years. The motion need not state the sum paid and the balance due. The Rule only requires that the motion be filed within the 10-year statute of limitations for the extension to be timely. For an example of a suggested form of a motion for an order to show cause, see addendum A of the online version of this article at http://tinyurl.com/3vdcb25.
Second, once you obtain a show cause order, mail it to the last known address of the judgment debtor. Although certified or registered mail with a return receipt request is not required, using this service provides additional documentary support of the mailing. For an example of a suggested form of an order to show cause, see addendum B of the online version of this article.
Third, wait at least 30 days, and then verify whether you have received any contact from the judgment debtor. You should also check with the court clerk to see if the judgment debtor has filed anything with the court. If the judgment debtor has made no response, file a certificate of service and statement that good cause has not been shown to prevent the extension of the judgment. For an example of a suggested form of a certificate of service, see addendum C of the online version of this article.
Finally, present a proposed order extending the judgment to the court. This should be mailed to the court along with the certificate to expedite the process. For an example of a suggested form of an order extending judgment, see addendum D of the online version of this article.
Nothing in Rule 69.04 necessarily requires a hearing. A court may require a hearing, which will depend on the judge, local practice and whether a judgment debtor responds to the show cause order.
When the order extending the judgment is entered, the judgment is extended for another 10 years. A new judgment is not awarded, rather the old judgment is extended, bearing interest and costs from the day when originally rendered, and the cost of the preceding to extend the judgment, subject to credits for payment made.
Rule 69.07 provides for a judgment lien against the judgment debtor’s real property by registering a certified copy of the judgment in the register’s office in the county where the property is located. The judgment lien lasts for the time remaining on the life of the underlying judgment and for any extension granted by a court under Rule 69.04. Rule 69.07 requires a judgment creditor to register a court’s order extending the judgment for an extension of the lien to be enforceable.
This method for extending judgments and judgment liens also applies in general sessions courts under Rule 1(3) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.
The fountain of youth for judgments will continue flowing so long as the procedure for extending them is exercised in each successive 10-year period. A good practice would be to advise your judgment creditor clients about the 10-year statute of limitations and tell them that they will need to contact you well before the 10-year time limit is up if they wish you to extend the judgment for another 10 years and keep that fountain flowing.
- 241 S.W.2d 587, 593 (Tenn. 1951); see also Warren v. Haggard, 803 S.W.2d 703 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990) (judgment against one of several defendants was an interlocutory order where claims remained against other defendants and parties did not avail themselves of procedures for entry of final judgment, and thus ten–year statute of limitations on proceeding to revive judgment by scire facias did not begin to run until final judgment was entered).
- See McGrew v. Reasons, 71 Tenn. 485 (1879) (judgments of a justice of the peace [the predecessor to General Sessions Courts], as well as judgments of a court of record, are barred by the statute of limitations of ten years).
- A scire facias is a writ requiring a judgment debtor to show cause why the judgment should not be revived. See Black’s Law Dictionary 1347 (7th ed. 1999). See also Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 25-4-101 to 104 (Revival of Judgments); Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-32-101 to 109 (Scire Facias); Shepard v. Lanier, 241 S.W.2d at 591 (“Under our practice and under other provisions of the Code it is a very simple matter to renew this judgment before the ten years expires by either the suit on the judgment or by scire facias.”).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-3-406; Mid-S. Pavers, Inc. v. Arnco Const. Inc., 771 S.W.2d 420 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989).
- Carson’s Ex’rs v. Richardson, 4 Tenn. 231, 232 (1817).
- In re Hunt, 323 B.R. 665, 668 (Bankr. W.D. Tenn. 2005).
- These forms are not intended to replace legal counsel or serve as legal advice on specific facts.
- See Rogers v. Hollingsworth, 32 S.W. 197, 198 (1895); see also In re Hunt, 323 B.R. 665, 669 (Bankr. W.D. Tenn. 2005) (renewal of the judgment does not require court to decide how much owed; terms of the original judgment control the amount of interest accrual).
- See also Tenn. Code Ann. § 25-5-101 (Lien of Judgment on Real Estate).
JONATHAN O. STEEN is a civil trial lawyer with Redding, Steen & Staton PC in Jackson. His practice involves primarily medical malpractice, legal malpractice and products liability defense; commercial and business disputes; and appellate advocacy. He received his bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and earned his law degree, cum laude, from the University of Minnesota Law School. Steen is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. He is also a member of the Tennessee Bar Association Board of Governors.