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Taylor v. Cloud

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

July 29, 2015


Session May 18, 2015

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Sullivan County No. K0039354(B) R. Jerry Beck, Judge

Timothy L. Cloud, Cape Coral, Florida, Pro Se.

John S. Taylor, Jonesborough, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and D. Michael Swiney, J., joined.



I. Factual and Procedural Background

The plaintiff, John S. Taylor, filed suit against the defendant, Timothy L. Cloud, in the Chancery Court for Sullivan County, seeking to enforce a judgment lien. Mr. Taylor is a practicing attorney in Jonesborough who formerly represented Mr. Cloud in a divorce action. Following his representation of Mr. Cloud, Mr. Taylor filed suit in the Washington County General Sessions Court to collect unpaid attorney's fees pursuant to the parties' fee agreement. The civil summons in the Washington County action shows that it was served upon Mr. Cloud at his Florida address via certified mail, return receipt requested, on March 27, 2011. On April 26, 2011, the Washington County General Sessions Court granted a default judgment in Mr. Taylor's favor in the amount of $10, 538.97, plus post-judgment interest at the rate of ten percent, and court costs.

Mr. Taylor filed the instant action on April 23, 2014, seeking to enforce his judgment lien against real property owned by Mr. Cloud in Sullivan County. According to Mr. Taylor, he was unable to locate any personal property belonging to Mr. Cloud. He thus sought to attach Mr. Cloud's real property and have it sold to satisfy his judgment lien granted pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 25-5-101. A writ of attachment was concomitantly entered by the trial court.

On May 22, 2014, Mr. Cloud filed a pro se answer to the complaint, stating, inter alia, that he wished to defend the action and have his day in court. Mr. Taylor subsequently filed a motion seeking a default judgment or judgment on the pleadings, asserting that Mr. Cloud was properly served via certified mail but failed to file an appropriate responsive pleading. Mr. Taylor alternatively asserted that summary judgment should be granted to him based on the enforceability of the underlying judgment. Mr. Cloud filed a response, contending that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding the validity of service of process and the amount of the judgment.

The trial court conducted a hearing on September 30, 2014, regarding Mr. Taylor's dispositive motions. Appearing as a self-represented litigant, Mr. Cloud maintained that although he had recently been served with papers filed in the instant action at his home address of 1424 Wilshire Court in Cape Coral, Florida, he had not received any mailings regarding the prior Washington County lawsuit sent to that address in 2011. Mr. Cloud acknowledged that this was his correct home address. He represented, however, that due to his extensive travel, he maintained a "UPS store address" of 1217 Cape Coral Parkway for receiving mail. Mr. Cloud stated that the agents at the UPS address were authorized to accept and sign for any mailings sent to him.

Mr. Cloud admitted that he had signed a fee agreement with Mr. Taylor and that he knew he owed unpaid legal fees. When questioned by the trial court regarding the validity of the underlying judgment, Mr. Cloud admitted that the underlying judgment was "legal" and that his only dispute was with the sale of his real property to satisfy the judgment. Upon further questioning, however, Mr. Cloud stated:

Well, sir, the fact of it is he does have a legal judgment back in 2011. But he did it illegally, I think. He did not send it to my last known address. And if I had gotten that address-if I'd gotten his letter to appear in court in 2011, which was sent to my last known address, which is a UPS store where they sign for my name-I give them permission to sign my name to everything. But instead he sent it to my home address, which I don't have mail there. And he knows I work out of town a lot and it came back unclaimed. So this recent-this recent summons to appear was sent to my house and I just happened to be at home or I wouldn't have found out about that either.

Mr. Cloud further related that he believed the amount of the judgment was excessive.

Following the presentation of oral arguments, the trial court granted Mr. Taylor's motion for summary judgment and asked Mr. Taylor to prepare an order. An order granting summary judgment was subsequently entered on October 10, 2014. The order recites that Mr. Taylor had a valid underlying judgment against Mr. Cloud. The order also contains findings of fact, as paraphrased below:

1. There are no genuine issues of material fact, and Mr. Taylor is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
2. The underlying judgment was properly recorded in Sullivan County, thus constituting a judgment lien on Mr. Cloud's real property pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 25-5-101.
3. Mr. Taylor tried to execute on Mr. Cloud's personal property but none was found.
4. Mr. Taylor properly and timely filed his complaint to sell real property to enforce his judgment lien and properly attached Mr. Cloud's property located at 553 Brookhaven Drive in Kingsport.
5. All documents in this action were properly served upon Mr. Cloud.
6. The court cannot alter the terms or amount of the underlying judgment or interest rate despite Mr. Cloud's request, such terms and amounts having been set and solely modifiable by the rendering court, Washington County General Sessions Court.

The trial court granted a judgment in favor of Mr. Taylor in the amount of $14, 630.26, which represented the amount of the original judgment plus interest through the date of the hearing. The court declined to award Mr. Taylor his attorney's fees incurred in this action. The court further ordered the property at 553 Brookhaven Drive sold ...

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