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VOL. 119 | NO. 130 | Friday, July 22, 2005

Local Courts See Dip in Case Filings

Clerks prepare for coming changes in filing fee structure

LANCE ALLAN | The Daily News

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Case filings saw a spring slowdown in area courts during the second quarter, with decreases in filings almost across the board when compared with the same period last year. Shelby County Chancery Court and the Circuit Court of Tennessee for the 30th Judicial District at Memphis each saw a drop in activity, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

Filing totals down. A total of 1,441 Circuit Court cases were filed in the second quarter, down from 1,705 filed in the same period of both 2004 and 2003, according to The Daily News Online. The number also marks a decline from 1,700 filings in the first quarter of this year.

Filings in Chancery Court came in at 529 in the second quarter, down from 649 in the same period of 2004 and 640 in second quarter 2003. Filings also declined from the first quarter, when 631 cases were filed.

Probate Court, however, saw an increase in year-to-year filings, with 312 cases filed in the second quarter, up from 294 in second quarter 2004 and 284 in second quarter 2003. But the number declined from the 327 cases filed in the first quarter.

Fee changes. Each of the courts is bracing for an upcoming change in fees that takes effect at the beginning of the year. The fee changes are the result of a change in state law.

"A committee met in Nashville and came up with a solution to streamline the statute so that all clerks of court across the state of Tennessee would be charging the same amount of money," said Van Sturdivant, Circuit Court chief administrative officer. "It cuts away a lot of the itemization. It creates a basic fee that's collected on the front end."

The fee amounts will depend on type of case, Sturdivant said.

Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas said the change will bring uniformity to courts across the state.

"There used to be a lot of differences in each county," he said. "They are working on this court cost deal to get all the costs simpler. Ours would be cut from $25 to $10. I'm looking forward to that."

Another ongoing change in area courts is increasing use of technology to streamline individual court systems. General Sessions Court Clerk Chris Turner said the court is continually being enhanced by the Internet.

"We are continuing to add more pages to our Web site here in civil," he said. " You can just about find any information you want on our Web site about ongoing cases."

Chancery filings. In Chancery Court, divorces led all filings in the second quarter with 202 cases. That number is down a bit from 208 in the same period last year and 232 in the same period of 2003. Adoptions were second at 54 filings, down from 68 in the second quarter of both 2004 and 2003.

Workers' compensation filings followed at 48, which was a sharp decline from 116 filed in the same period last year and 93 in second quarter 2003. Complaint for damages and breach of contract followed, with 34 and 26 second quarter filings, respectively.

"A committee met in Nashville and came up with a solution to streamline the statute so that all clerks of court across the state of Tennessee would be charging the same amount of money. It cuts away a lot of the itemization. It creates a basic fee that's collected on the front end."
- Van Sturdivant
chief administrative officer,
Circuit Court of Tennessee for the 30th Judicial District at Memphis

Circuit filings. April to June saw declines in filings across the board for Circuit Court; most categories saw a decrease in cases from the previous year. Of the top 10 types of case filings in the court in second quarter 2005, all saw a decline.

Divorces led all case filings in the second quarter for the third straight year, with 528 cases filed. That number is down from 581 filed in second quarter 2004 and 548 in second quarter 2003. Appeals from General Sessions Court came in second at 233 filings, down from 280 filed in second quarter 2004 and 301 filed in the same period of 2003.

Auto accident cases dropped to 227 filings this quarter from 261 in the same period last year. There were 225 filings in second quarter 2003, which represents both auto accident and auto negligence as separate categories.

Breach of contract cases followed, with 87 filings during the period, down from 110 in 2004 and 129 in 2003. Rounding out the top five for 2005 were personal injury cases, with 72 filings - steady from the 73 filed in second quarter 2004 and 73 in the same period of 2003.

Other categories seeing declines in Circuit Court were workers' compensation with 60, down from 87 in 2004; miscellaneous filings with 56, down from 67 in 2004; malpractice with 49, down from 52; minor settlement with 25, down from 33; and petition to enforce for judgment with 22, down from 25.

Probate filings. In Probate court, the total number of filings increased during the quarter. The filing of wills led the way at 188, up from 167 in second quarter 2004. There were 165 filings in the same period of 2003.

Conservatorships also saw an increase, to 57 from 49 filed in second quarter 2004 and 30 in second quarter 2003. Administrations declined to 52 in the quarter, down from 61 last year and 68 in 2003. Guardianships also dropped to 15 from 17 in 2004 and 21 in 2003.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 64 87 1,429
MORTGAGES 39 60 1,107
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 6 196
BUILDING PERMITS 0 117 3,173
BANKRUPTCIES 0 42 795
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 2 331
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0