News

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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Obama Endorses Corker’s Mortgage Plan

President Barack Obama has endorsed a bipartisan Senate effort Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker helped craft that seeks to strengthen America’s housing finance system and shield taxpayers from bearing the brunt of future economic meltdowns. Some five years after the mortgage crisis struck government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and required a $200 billion federal bailout, Obama said it’s time to reduce government’s risk in any future crisis. Corker told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that it gives him "hope that we actually deal with Fannie and Freddie before the political season begins this January and makes it very difficult for anything to occur.”

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Bill to End Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Clears House Committee

The House Financial Services Committee today approved the Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners Act, which will wind down Fannie May and Freddie Mac over five years and rely on the private sector to provide a secondary market for residential real estate mortgages. The committee approved the legislation on a party-line vote after working on the bill 11 hours yesterday. Democrats offered numerous amendments to the bill, but all were defeated. Republicans contend the legislation will increase competition in the mortgage market and give home buyers more choices on loan products. The Nashville Business Journal has more. 

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Forclosure, Delinquency Rates Decline in Memphis

Memphis saw a decrease in foreclosure and delinquency rates from last year according to a new study by CoreLogic. A report by the company shows that the foreclosure rate dropped from 2.59 percent in May 2012 to 1.75 percent this year -- beating the national foreclosure rate of 2.61 percent. The report also found that the delinquency rate decreased from 8.71 percent last year to 7.51 percent this year. The Memphis Business Journal has more on the story.

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Appeals Court Rules Notice OK for Mosque Project

An appeals court ruled this week that the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission provided proper public notice before approving construction plans for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro mosque in 2010, the Tennessean reports. The appeals court reversed Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s decision that the county’s public notice in The Murfreesboro Post about the meeting time, date and location without an agenda, didn’t reach enough people before planning commissioners approved the mosque plans. The plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon said Thursday that the Tennessee Supreme Court will be asked to reverse the ruling.

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Law Firms Cautious on Adding Office Space

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting record highs, home prices rebounding and interest rates remaining low, observers are watching to see when the office market will join the recovery. It might be a while. Experts believe that law firms, which take up about 17 percent of all U.S. office space and are typically the takers of the newest and best space in large markets, will remain cost-conscious and occupy less space than in previous years. “Our research people have told us that law firms will now be taking 25 percent less space on average,” says Elizabeth Cooper, an international director for brokerage with Jones Lang “I don’t think we’re going to see a day soon of a law firm taking excess space. It’s now all about being lean and mean.” The National Real Estate Investor has the story.

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Get a Lesson in Real Estate Essentials

If you are new to commercial real estate, “Real Estate Essentials: A Primer in Commercial Real Estate for Tennessee Lawyers” will provide you with the basics you need to know. Attendees will start the May 9 program with an overview of the current commercial real estate market in Tennessee. Speakers will address areas of growth, concerns, trends, and surprise issues. Topics include a summary of the commercial real estate law and specific issues with commercial landlord and tenant law.

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New CLE Covers Zoning, Planning, Land Use

A new CLE course scheduled for Thursday will cover a broad range of municipal land use issues, including zoning, planning and boards of zoning appeal. The course, presented by private and government lawyers, emphasizes the importance of understanding Tennessee case law and statutes that govern the frequently difficult and lengthy development process. In many cases, politics also plays a role in this practice area as clients, communities and various levels of government are involved or impacted. Speakers will offer perspectives from both sides of the fence. Learn more or register online.

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State Office Warns of Real Estate Scam

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is warning homebuyers and sellers about a scam involving real estate titles. According to the office’s business services division, letters have been sent to at least eight real estate companies suggesting that there are claims against titles of more than two dozen residential properties. The letters are postmarked from Portland, Ore., and claim to be submitted on behalf of an organization called “the French Trust.” The letters threaten court action against anyone attempting to sell any of the listed properties. Hargett said it was not immediately clear what was the motivation for sending the letters, but said the information they contain is not true. He urged people to contact the business services division for assistance at (615) 741-2286 if they encounter such letters.

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Federal Program Helps Tennessee Homeowners

Tennesseans unable to make their mortgage payments and in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure can get help from Keep My Tennessee Home, a program administered by the Tennessee Housing Development agency to provide loans to unemployed or substantially underemployed homeowners. Tennessee is one of 18 states plus Washington DC that are receiving the Federal Hardest Hit Funds due to having an unemployment rate higher than the national average. Homeowners who qualify for financial assistance may received up to 36 months of monthly mortgage payments and/or funds to pay past due payments. To learn more, download the brochure or visit www. keepmytnhome.org.

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Rep. Pushes Bill to Stop Chattanooga 'Cherry Picking'

State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, is pressing legislation aimed at blocking Chattanooga from allegedly “cherry picking” affluent suburbs outside its current urban growth boundary plan. “This bill would say that before you can open your urban growth plan you must annex all areas within your currently existing urban growth area.” Carter told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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Feds Release Rules to Curb Risky Mortgages

Federal regulators at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled new rules today aimed at ensuring that mortgage borrowers can afford to repay loans they take out, reports the Memphis Daily News. The regulations impose a range of obligations and restrictions on lenders, including bans on “interest-only” and “no documentation” loans. Lenders also would be required to verify and inspect borrowers’ financial records and avoid approving debt payments totalling more than 43 percent of the borrower’s annual income.

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Annexation Trial Finally Set for August 2013

A 2007 annexation lawsuit has finally received a court date for August 2013, the Rogersville Review reports. In 2006, the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Alderman approved an ordinance that would extend the city limits approximately 1.2. miles and annex several subdivisions and vacant land. Knoxville attorney David L. Buuck filed a lawsuit challenging the annexation early the next year. In 2011, the lawsuit was put on hold pending the outcome of a similar case by the city of Newport.

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DOJ Sues Bank of America for Alleged Fraud

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing Bank of America for $1 billion alleging the bank committed fraud by selling defective mortgages to government-backed mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, resulting in over $1 billion in losses for taxpayers and countless foreclosures. CNN has the full story.

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Farmland Tax Law Loophole Benefits Urban, Wealthy

A 1976 Tennessee state farmland protection law originally intended to prevent farmers from being taxed off their land has become a tax loophole exploited by wealthy, urban, estate owners, business icons, and real estate developers, the Commercial Appeal reports. According to the newspaper’s investigation, the Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act, or “Greenbelt Law,” is allegedly rife with abuse as the wealthy receive tax benefits by declaring a woods a timber preserve, a mansion’s manicured lawn a pasture, a future subdivision a farm, and a privately owned country club’s golf course an “open space.”

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