News

Panel Discusses Increasing State's Homestead Exemption

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) wrapped up a two-day meeting Thursday with a discussion of Tennessee’s homestead exemption. Since the 1977 constitutional convention that moved the exemption into statute and increased the homestead exemption to $5,000, there has been no change to the individual homestead exemption, only categories added. Tennessee has one of the lowest homestead exemptions in the nation and the state leads the nation in the highest bankruptcy rate filings per capita. A TACIR research report cited the most common reason for bankruptcy is medical bills. Panelists included Maria Salas, a Certified Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist who represented the Tennessee Bar Association. TACIR will be looking at an approach to increasing and/or perhaps simplifying Tennessee’s complex homestead exemptions and will present a policy recommendation at its meeting in October.

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Court of Appeals Affirms Ruling in Property Lawsuit

The Tennessee Court of Appeals is affirming an Aug. 14 court ruling that determined the statute of limitations did not run out for a Rutherford County resident to sue a gun manufacturer over a land-sale breach-of-contract argument. Brenda Benz sued Ronnie Barrett in 2008 for failing to provide access to her land three years after she sold him the property for the expansion of Barrett Firearms. "It's been a long and arduous process, but the court got it right from the very beginning," Benz said in the Murfreesboro Post. The Court of Appeals also decided Benz never wavered in her request for land to provide access to her property.

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Sign Up Today to be a Mentor

The TBA Mentoring Program is seeking volunteer mentors from across the state within specific practice areas: Nashville, Civil Rights; Brentwood, Environmental; Columbia, Litigation, General Practice, Real Estate and/or Probate and Trust; Memphis, Intellectual Property. Those participating in the program will commit to a formal mentoring relationship for one year, with a requirement to meet face-to-face at least once a month. For more information, visit the TBA Mentoring Program webpage or contact TBA staff member Christy Gibson, (615) 383-7421.

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Learn More About the Post Tanco World

The outcome of the historical case Tanco v. Haslam will continue to have a significant impact on several aspects of the law. Join your colleagues on Sept. 18 for the first annual LGBT Law Forum to discuss how the case will impact family law, estate planning, real estate and health care practices. And in case you missed it, the TBA's one-hour webcast on marriage equality covers the basics of the case.

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Supreme Court Backs Fair Housing Case

The Supreme Court today ruled that claims of racial discrimination in housing cases shouldn't be limited by questions of intent, National Public Radio reports. The court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision in a case in which a nonprofit group, the Inclusive Communities Project, said that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs had contributed to "segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods." The 5-4 ruling endorses the notion of citing disparate impact in housing cases, meaning that statistics and other evidence can be used to show decisions and practices have discriminatory effects — without proving that they're the result of discriminatory intentions.

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First Tennessee to Pay Government $212.5 Million

First Tennessee Bank has agreed to pay $212.5 million after admitting to making bad mortgage loans. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the bank kept approving Federal Housing Administration loans for ineligible borrowers through its subsidiary, First Horizon Home Loans Corporation, between January 2006 and October 2008. When many of those loans later defaulted, the banks holding the loans were able to submit insurance claims to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for their losses. News Channel 9 has the story.

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Free Legal Clinic for Residents Affected by Bed Bugs

Chattanooga attorney Emily O'Donnell is offering free advice to residents affected by bed bugs in a low-income housing complex, News Channel 9 reports. People living at Whiteside's Faith Manor said they have been dealing with bed bugs for more than three years, and that management has been little to no help in fixing the problem. Those who need help can call Legal Aid at (423) 756-4013, ext. 1109, before June 8.

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Hamilton County Jury Awards $20 Million to Developers

A Hamilton County Circuit Court jury today awarded $20,599,000 to the developers of Canyon Ridge on Lookout Mountain against a financial firm that allegedly secretly started working on a rival project. The jury also said the plaintiffs are due punitive damages. Attorneys tell Chattanoogan.com that it is believed to be the largest verdict award in Hamilton County history.

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'Swingers Club' Claims it is a Church in Zoning Fight

A "swingers" group relocating to suburban Nashville plans to change its name from The Social Club to the United Fellowship Center — part of a strategy to rebrand itself as a church, according to the ABA Journal. The club’s lawyer, Larry Roberts, tells the Washington Post he came up with the idea of changing the club to a church to afford religious protections to the group, which is still operating in Nashville pending resolution of legal disputes.

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Neighborhood Protection Act Clears General Assembly

A proposal that would help organized residential entities keep repeat offenders out of their communities is headed to the governor for his consideration. SB638/HB843 allows such entities to petition a judge for a restraining order against repeat criminals that target the inside of its boundaries. The offender must have been convicted of three or more offenses that occurred inside the residential area. Knoxblogs has more

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Court Requires Strict Interpretation of Civil Forfeiture Laws

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state must present evidence that it has complied with procedural and substantive requirements in civil forfeiture laws before it can seize property. In the case in question, the court found that that the state failed to present affirmative proof it complied with procedural requirements outlined in the law. It thus reversed the trial court’s decision and vacated the forfeiture in question. The court also used the case as an opportunity to emphasize that forfeiture is disfavored under Tennessee’s constitution, meaning that forfeiture statutes must be strictly interpreted. Read more about the decision or download the opinion.

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Wilson & Associates Names New Shareholders

Real estate default services law firm Wilson & Associates, which has two offices in Arkansas and three in Tennessee, has named three new shareholders and hired a new chief financial officer and chief operating officer, DSNews reports. Randy Bueter, Shellie Wallace and Aaron Squyres have been named shareholders in the firm. The three attorneys have combined for 45 years of service with Wilson & Associates.

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National Law Journal Features Memphis Law Program

The National Law Journal this week featured the University of Memphis School of Law’s new Neighborhood Preservation Clinic, a partnership between the school and the city attorney’s office focused on using the courts to force owners of abandoned and blighted properties to make improvements. The piece looks at the role students will play in the clinic and what co-directors Daniel Schaffzin and Steve Barlow hope to accomplish through the program.

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Court Clarifies Rule for Ending Mortgage

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that home buyers do not need to file a lawsuit, but may simply write a letter if they want to back out of a mortgage because they believe their lender violated the federal Truth in Lending Act. The decision came in a case of a Minnesota couple that refinanced their home in 2007 but later claimed the company failed to provide disclosures required under federal law. Resolving a split among lower courts, the Supreme Court said written notice was enough. In another unanimous opinion, the court upheld a mandatory 10-year minimum prison term for a suspect who forces another person to accompany him during a bank robbery or in trying to elude police. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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Tennesseans to Receive $2.6M in Foreclosure Settlement

More than 2,000 Tennessee residents who lost their homes to foreclosure with Ocwen Loan Servicing will receive a total of $2.6 million in a settlement announced today by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office. Each homeowner should receive a check for approximately $1,100. The agreement settles state and national findings that Ocwen engaged in servicing abuses that resulted in unnecessary and illegal foreclosures from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2012. It also covers two loan servicers recently acquired by Ocwen: Litton Loan Servicing LP and Homeward Residential Holdings LLC (previously known as American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc. or AHMSI). Those with questions should call (866) 783-5382.

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Vested Property Rights Act Leads December TBJ

In the December issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal, lawyers Jennifer Lacey and John Williams detail the Vested Property Rights Act of 2014 and how it has given more stability to developers. Bill Rutchow looks at employer protection of confidential business information through the Tennessee Uniform Trade Secrets Act. And in perhaps the best news of all, columnist Eddy Smith reports the demise of Circular 230 Disclosures in "How the IRS Saved the Planet and Returned 30 Minutes of Your Day."

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Court to Consider When 2nd Mortgage Can Be Void

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether homeowners who declare bankruptcy can void a second mortgage if the home’s market value has dropped below the amount they owe on the first mortgage, the Memphis Daily News reports. The case involves Florida homeowners who were allowed to nullify second loans held by Bank of America. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed both cases, but Bank of America says the rulings conflict with Supreme Court precedent and the rulings of other appellate courts that have considered the issue.

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Nashville Law Gives Neighbors Regulation Tool

Metro Council passed a new law adopting the so-called contextual overlay district, giving Nashville communities another tool to help regulate development. Supporters say it will combat new buildings that chafe against neighborhood fabric. The new law places restrictions on what builders can do in terms of height and width, taking into consideration the average shape of homes on either side of a proposed development. It’s not a blanket law; residents apply to be considered for the overlay. A vocal critic of the contextual overlay district said it will likely stagnate property values and create hurdles to home renovations. Nashville Public Radio has more.

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Corvette Museum Sees Surge After Sinkhole

For years, just enough classic car lovers and curious travelers wandered through the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky to keep the doors open. Now, after a massive sinkhole swallowed eight pristine models of vintage muscle, attendance has skyrocketed. Learn about sinkhole law in this recent Tennessee Bar Journal.

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Real Estate Firm Expands, Adds Attorneys

Bartlett-based CloseTrak LLC, a law firm that provides real estate title and closing services, is expanding to a new office in the Ridgeway Center in East Memphis and adding a satellite office  in the Law Offices of Mitzi Johnson, a domestic relations law firm in Collierville. The firm has also added three new attorneys. The Memphis Business Journal has more.

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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AG Rules on Surplus Property Private Sale

Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion maintaining the authority of the City of Jellico to sell surplus real property by private sale if the city determines that a private sale is the most advantageous manner available. Cooper also ruled that a county that has adopted the 1981 Act is only authorized to sell surplus land by public sale unless the property is historically or architecturally significant and qualifies for private sale.

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Bank of America Found Guilty of Fraud

A jury in federal court found Bank of America and a former Countrywide Financial executive guilty of fraud, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Jurors concluded Bank of America, through its Countrywide Financial acquisition, had fraudulently sold mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as part of an internal program called "The Hustle."

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Learn About Comparative Fault, Cemetery Law

John Paul Nefflen writes about comparative fault in audit malpractice cases in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal.  Also, Don Paine explains "cemetery law" -- and a surprising situation involving the body of a former Tennessee Supreme Court justice.

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Nelson Mullins Moves into New Nashville Office

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP has moved into a 17,000-square-foot office space at One Nashville Place at Fourth Avenue and Commerce Street. Although about the same size in square footage as the firm's previous office at the Regions Center, managing shareholder Larry Papel noted that the new space is "lighter and brighter and newer and nicer." The new space can accommodate up to 25 attorneys. Nelson Mullins, which opened in 2012 with six attorneys, added two more in April of this year and expects to add at least three more attorneys within the next few months. The Nashville Business Journal has the story.

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