Monday, October 26, 2020

Real Estate: Using Lis Pendens to Secure an Interest in Real Estate

     In prior blogs we have been discussing the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions. As I have emphasized, properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss. In this blog, we will review the benefits of using lis pendens in litigation cases to aid in the collection of your debt. 
     A lis pendens is a legal memorandum which places parties on notice that litigation is pending which affects the title or ownership of real estate. The lis pendens is filed in the circuit court of the county or city in which real estate lies. 
     Virginia Code §8.01-268 B states that “No memorandum of lis pendens shall be filed unless the action on which the lis pendens is based seeks to establish an interest by the filing party in the real property described in the memorandum…”. 
     Virginia Code § 8.01-268 A provides that a lis pendens does not affect a subsequent bona fide purchaser of real estate for valuable consideration until actual notice of such lis pendens is properly filed with the required information. Requirements include: the title of the cause, the general object thereof, the court wherein it is pending, the amount of the claim asserted, a description of the property, the name of the person whose estate is intended to be affected thereby.
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, file lis pendens, and litigate to enforce the same.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Bankruptcy: Punitive Damages - Failure to Return Vehicle

     Judge Tice of the United States Bankruptcy Court, in Richmond, in the case of Brown v. Town & Country Sales and Service, Inc., ruled that a creditor that repeatedly refused to give the debtors’ pickup truck back to the debtors, despite the debtors’ entitlement to the truck after they filed for bankruptcy, violated the automatic stay in bankruptcy and must pay debtors’ attorney’s fees and punitive damages. 
     The creditor’s registered agent testified at trial that, despite the fact that they had always returned repossessed property post-petition in the past, the creditor elected not to return debtors’ vehicle. Instead, she testified that this time the creditor decided it would not return debtors’ vehicle upon demand because the creditor was unhappy that a large number of its customers had declared bankruptcy in the past year. 
     The debtors provided the lender with proof of adequate insurance. The debtors were currently awaiting confirmation of their modified Chapter 13 plan in which the debtors proposed to pay the lender in full. The debtors owed the lender $1,689.02 for the initial truck loan, as well as $1,764.95 for the replacement motor, for a total of $3,453.97.
     The Court concluded that the creditor’s demand for full payment, coupled with its inaction and retention of the vehicle, amount to an exercise of control sufficient to find a violation of the automatic stay for failure to turn over the vehicle pursuant to Bankruptcy Code §542(a). The Bankruptcy Court ruled that the debtors were entitled to recover the truck upon filing bankruptcy. Thus, the creditor’s retention of the vehicle post-petition constituted an exercise of control in violation of the automatic stay and Bankruptcy Code §362(h), which permits a court to impose attorney’s fees, costs and punitive damages for a willful violation of the automatic stay. The Court awarded these.
     The Bankruptcy Court further awarded punitive damages against the creditor in the form of cancellation of both of the creditor’s security interests against debtors’ vehicle. Any balance which debtors owed the creditor was treated as an unsecured claim.
    The lesson in Brown - know the rules and always consult experienced counsel. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Collections: Interest on Accounts

      It seems to happen more and more often. You are able to obtain your judgment against your debtor, but when you go to collect, he has recently transferred his assets. Can you pursue the assets to the transferee? Under the right circumstances, yes. 
     The case of Price v. Hawkins, from the Newport News Circuit Court, appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, stands for the position that a court may enter personal judgments against a transferee to provide a creditor with a remedy when, due to fraud, there is no other remedy.
     In Price the Court found that the debtor, a father, enlisted the help of his son and his son's girlfriend in the debtor's scheme to defraud his creditors. Specifically, the son and his girlfriend, who were not legitimate creditors of the debtor, assisted the debtor in hiding assets ($14,058.77) that the creditor would have otherwise reached in his judgment collection efforts. The transfers occurred after the judgment order was entered, and $10,000.00 was transferred to the son and the girlfriend three months later while the creditor was attempting to collect on the judgment.
     The Court found that simply declaring the fraudulent transfer "void" pursuant to Virginia Code §55-80 would be meaningless, as the conveyance was of money. In cases involving the fraudulent conveyance of real estate, title to the real estate is restored by a declaration, thus, subjecting the property to a creditor's bill. The Court ruled in Price that unless the money was delivered to the Court for the creditor to attach, then personal judgments were the only remedy.
     Perhaps the lesson of Price is: Ask questions! When your debtor is under oath for interrogatories, ask what assets have been conveyed to whom, when, and for what consideration.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Collections: Arbitration - A Collection Alternative

     Virginia Code §8.01-382 addresses pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, and provides that: 

In any action at law or equity, the verdict of the jury or judgment by the court may provide for interest on the entire principal sum awarded or any part of that sum, and fix the period at which the interest is to commence. 

     The judgment order entered provides for the accrual of interest until the principal sum is paid. This code section further provides that if no interest is provided on a judgment, the statutory rate of interest shall be applied as of the date of entry of such verdict or judgment. The statutory judgment rate of interest is presently set at an annual rate of six percent, unless otherwise provided by a written contract, agreement or note.