Nothing Lasts Forever: Expiration and Extension of Judgments in Tennessee

 In Bankruptcy and Creditors' Rights, Blog

For a plaintiff seeking to recover for any outstanding obligation in a Tennessee civil lawsuit, obtaining a judgment against the debtor is the culmination of months or years of effort. All the pre-suit demands and negotiations, time-consuming and expensive discovery and motion practice, and perhaps a hard-fought trial all wind up reflected in a judgment.

But as any judgment creditor knows, turning that judgment into actual dollars can be a frustrating and lengthy endeavor. And if that endeavor takes too long, or the creditor fails to take the steps needed to extend the time to enforce their rights, the judgment could expire and close the door on any recovery after all that effort.

10-Year Lifespan for Tennessee Judgments

Tennessee judgments do not last forever. As reflected in other statutes of limitation, the law does not like leaving matters and disputes lingering in perpetuity. According to Section 28-3-110(a)(2), Tennessee Code Annotated, actions to enforce judgments must be commenced within ten years of the date the judgment was entered. If the judgment remains unsatisfied at the end of that period, it will expire – unless the judgment creditor moves to extend the lifespan of their judgment for another ten years.

Extending the Life of a Tennessee Judgment Is Easier Than Ever

Tennessee law has long allowed judgment creditors to petition the court to extend the life of their judgments. Before 2016, a creditor had to seek a court order to show cause why the judgment should not be extended. But changes to the law that year eliminated the need for a show cause hearing and now direct courts to automatically grant timely, uncontested requests for an extension of a judgment.

Specifically, Rule 69.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure provides that:

  • Within ten years from the entry of a judgment, the creditor whose judgment remains unsatisfied may file a motion to extend the judgment for another ten years.
  • The judgment creditor must mail a copy of the motion to the judgment debtor at their last known address.
  • If the judgment debtor does not file a response within 30 days after the motion was filed, the court shall grant the motion without further notice or hearing and enter an order extending the judgment.

If the debtor does file a timely response to the motion to extend, they must show cause why the court should not extend the judgment for an additional ten years.

Critically, a creditor seeking to extend the life of their judgment must file their motion before the expiration of the initial ten-year period. As long as they do so, their motion will be considered timely even if the court does not grant the motion until after the ten years is up.

Also, since Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69(a) provides that the procedure for execution of judgments and actions related to judgments “shall be in accordance with the practice and procedure of the state in which the district court is held…,” the same process for extending a judgment that applies for state court judgments also applies to judgments obtained in any federal district court sitting in Tennessee.

Protecting Judgment Liens After Extension

As part of their initial enforcement efforts, a Tennessee judgment creditor should obtain a judgment lien against any real property in the state owned by the debtor by registering a certified copy of the judgment in the register’s office of the county or counties where that property is located. To ensure the lien remains enforceable, a creditor who obtains an extension of their judgment should register the court’s order extending the judgment in every county where they previously filed a lien.

If you have questions about the enforcement and extension of judgments in Tennessee, please contact one of the bankruptcy and creditors’ rights attorneys at Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison today.


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