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Gallatin Housing Authority v. Pelt

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 16, 2017

GALLATIN HOUSING AUTHORITY
v.
MAHOGANEE PELT

          Session: August 16, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sumner County No. 83CC12015CV699 Joe Thompson, Judge

         This appeal arises from an indigent tenant's petition for writs of certiorari and supersedeas for a de novo review of an unlawful detainer action originally filed in general sessions court. The tenant sought to remain in possession of the leased premises during the review without posting a possessory bond. The circuit court initially issued the writs and, in lieu of a bond, ordered the tenant to pay rent as it became due. The landlord objected, arguing that a possessory bond was mandatory under the applicable statute. The circuit court then ordered the tenant to post a bond and, after the tenant failed to comply, dismissed the previously issued writs. On appeal, the tenant argues that the circuit court erred in calculating the amount of the bond and in dismissing the writ of certiorari with the writ of supersedeas. She also contends that the landlord executed the writ of possession in violation of the initial stay of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 62.01. We conclude that, although it erred in including court costs as part of the possessory bond in light of the tenant's indigence, the trial court properly dismissed the writs of certiorari and supersedeas after the tenant failed to file a possessory bond. We also conclude that Rule 62.01 did not stay the dismissal of the writ of supersedeas. Consequently, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Cherrelle Hooper, Gallatin, Tennessee, and Samuel Keen, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mahoganee Pelt.

          Brandon R. Meredith, Gallatin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Gallatin Housing Authority.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy J. Bennett, J., and J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE.

         I.

         In 2015, a dispute arose between Mahoganee Pelt and her landlord, the Gallatin Housing Authority[1] ("GHA") regarding the calculation of her rent. After Ms. Pelt failed to make a required rent payment, GHA filed a detainer warrant in the general sessions court for Sumner County, Tennessee. GHA sought both possession of the premises and a monetary judgment for unpaid rent and late fees. On June 18, 2015, the general sessions court ruled that GHA was entitled to possession and also awarded a monetary judgment for back rent, interest, and damages.

         On June 26, 2015, Ms. Pelt petitioned the Circuit Court for Sumner County, Tennessee, under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-18-129, to issue writs of certiorari and supersedeas to the general sessions court to stay execution of the writ of possession and remove the action to the circuit court for de novo review. After filing a poverty oath and an affidavit of indigency, Ms. Pelt asked the court to waive any bond requirement for costs or for any rent that might accumulate during the appeal. In lieu of a bond, Ms. Pelt asked to pay rent as it became due during the pendency of her appeal.

         Initially, the circuit court, by fiat, ordered the court clerk to issue the requested writs, ordered GHA to recalculate rent based on Ms. Pelt's current income, and, in lieu of a bond, required Ms. Pelt to pay the recalculated rent and other charges as they became due during the litigation. GHA filed a motion to dismiss the writs because Ms. Pelt had not posted a possessory bond. The court ruled that Ms. Pelt was statutorily required to post a bond to cover costs, damages, and the value of the rent during litigation. The court ordered Ms. Pelt to post a bond of $2, 199, which was comprised of $1, 681 in damages, $216 in anticipated rent, and $302 in circuit court costs.

         On August 5, 2015, Ms. Pelt filed a motion to alter or amend the court's order. Ms. Pelt explained that she was unable to obtain the required bond and requested that the court allow her to meet the bond requirement by paying rent as it became due. The court denied the motion, dismissed the writs of certiorari and supersedeas with prejudice, and entered judgment against Ms. Pelt in the amount of $1, 996.82.

         The day after the court dismissed the writ of supersedeas, GHA obtained a writ of possession from the general sessions court clerk. A copy of the writ and a Notice of Eviction was posted on Ms. Pelt's door on August 17, informing her that she would be evicted on August 20. Ms. Pelt claims she "was forced to vacate the premises because of these documents posted to her door indicating she was under an order to leave."[2]

         II.

         Ms. Pelt raises three issues on appeal. First, she contends that the circuit court erred in determining that Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-18-129 requires indigent defendants in an unlawful detainer action to post a bond with security sufficient to cover costs, damages, and the value of rent during the litigation. Second, she argues that the court erred in dismissing the writ of certiorari with the writ of supersedeas after she failed to post a possessory bond. Third, she claims that GHA's execution of the writ of possession violated the thirty-day stay in Rule 62.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.

         To resolve these issues, we must interpret both statutes and procedural rules and apply them to the undisputed facts. Statutory construction and the interpretation of our procedural rules are questions of law, which we review de novo, with no presumption of correctness. Lind v. Beaman Dodge, Inc., 356 S.W.3d 889, 895 (Tenn. 2011).

         A. Unlawful Detainer Actions

         Unlawful detainer[3] is a statutory action created to "streamline the cumbersome and more formal common law action[s], such as ejectment, used to determine rightful possession of real property." Newport Hous. Auth. v. Ballard, 839 S.W.2d 86, 89 (Tenn. 1992); Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-104. At the commencement of an unlawful detainer action, the plaintiff must post a bond "to pay all costs and damages which shall accrue to the defendant for the wrongful prosecution of the suit." Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-111 (2012).

          In cases filed in general sessions court, [4] the judge determines which party is entitled to possession and enters judgment accordingly. Id. § 29-18-119(b) (2012). In conjunction with the judgment of possession, the judge is also statutorily required to "ascertain the arrearage of rent, interest, and damages, if any, and render judgment therefor." Id. § 29-18-125 (2012); see Nashville Hous. Auth. v. Kinnard, 207 S.W.2d 1019, 1020 (Tenn. 1948) ("[T]he judgment for rent and damages [is] incidental to the judgment for possession."). The judgment of possession is only stayed for ten days. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-126 (2012). Thereafter, a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to possession immediately. Id. § 29-18-130(a) (2012).

         The unsuccessful defendant in an unlawful detainer action has two options for seeking de novo review in circuit court. Johnson v. Hopkins, 432 S.W.3d 840, 845 & n.5 (Tenn. 2013). A notice of appeal can be filed within ten days. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-18-128 (2012). Or the losing party can, within thirty days, petition the circuit court for writs of certiorari and supersedeas. Id. § 29-18-129 (2012).

         If the defendant chooses to petition for writs of certiorari and supersedeas under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-18-129, the circuit court must grant the petition and issue the requested writs if the applicant submits a petition containing a meritorious defense and a bond with sufficient security to cover all costs, damages, and the value of the rent of the premises during the litigation. Id. § 29-18-129; Elliott v. Lawless, 53 Tenn. 123, 126 (1871). The writ of certiorari removes the case to the ...


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