Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
Clinic and Externship News January 2012

Civil Litigation Clinic Update
by Daniel Schaffzin, Director of Clinical Programs and Externships and Assistant Professor of Law

Civil Litigation Clinic helps client to Consumer Rights victory against used car dealer

In March 2011, the Civil Litigation Clinic succeeded in obtaining a judgment of nearly $37,000 from the Shelby County Chancery Court on behalf of a client who had suffered damages resulting from the fraudulent sale of a used vehicle and extended warranty by a local dealership. 

Co-counseling with Memphis Area Legal Services, the Clinic began working on the case at the start of the spring 2010 semester.  After performing extensive factual investigation and legal research into potential claims, student attorneys Randi Johnson (JD 10), Bradley Mercer ( JD10) and Adam DeNobriga (JD 10) drafted and filed a Chancery Court Complaint alleging that the defendants, a used car dealership and its owner, had committed acts of fraud, violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), violations of the Tennessee Uniform Commercial Code, and conversion.  After commencing the lawsuit, the Clinic case team, which came to include student attorney Pablo Varela ('10), handled all pre-trial aspects of the litigation, which included conducting witness interviews and other informal fact investigation; drafting a motion for default judgment and several motions for sanctions; drafting written interrogatories and requests for production; preparing a proposed scheduling order; performing extensive legal research; and formulating case strategy.

As a result of the defendants’ repeated non-compliance with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and orders compelling discovery issued by the Court, the Clinic was able to procure more than $3,000 in sanctions.  More notably, following a fourth motion for sanctions, the Court entered an Order on January 28, 2011, granting a default judgment against the defendants, striking the defendants' Answer to the Complaint, establishing the defendants’ liability for all of the alleged causes of action, and setting a writ of inquiry proceeding in March for the purposes of determining the client's damages.

After several weeks of intensive preparation, which included the drafting of a comprehensive submission to the Court detailing the factual and legal bases supporting the client's damages request, student attorneys Cara Howe ('11) and Donnie Snow ('11) appeared on the client's behalf at the writ of inquiry proceeding conducted on March 8, 2011.  During direct examination conducted by Ms. Howe, the client described to the Court in compelling fashion what the defendants had done to her and the impact of their unlawful behavior.  Mr. Snow closed the proceeding with an argument clearly articulating the client’s damages position and responding to the assertions of opposing counsel suggesting that non-profit legal organizations cannot recover the attorney’s fees otherwise attainable under the TCPA.  Noting that the client had established a "classic" violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, the Chancellor awarded $3,442 in actual damages, $10,000 in punitive damages, and $20,000 in attorney's fees for the fraud and violations of the TCPA perpetrated by the Defendants.  Taking into account the more than $3,000 in sanctions already reduced to judgment, the Court's award totaled nearly $37,000.

 In other cases handled by the Civil Litigation Clinic during the spring 2011 semester:

  • Student attorney Daniel Hamilton conducted a trial and ultimately helped a client to obtain a favorable settlement in a General Sessions Court case the Clinic filed on her behalf alleging fraud and violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act arising out of the improper repair of her car by a Memphis mechanic shop.
  • Student Attorney Cara Howe secured a favorable settlement of a General Sessions Court case in which the Clinic asserted that the defendant contractor had breached a contract and violated Tennessee’s civil bad check statute in failing to pay the Clinic’s client for the performance of substantial roofing work.
  • Student attorneys Eric Mogy and Donnie Snow each represented clients on whose behalf the Clinic filed General Sessions Civil Warrants seeking recovery for consumer protection and contractual violations relating to the sale and repair of automobiles.  Those cases are still ongoing.

zawiszaChild and Family Litigation Clinic Update
by Christina A. Zawisza, Professor of Clinical Law and Director, Child and Family Litigation Clinic

 

 

The Child and Family Litigation Clinic has continued its representation of children in various legal settings.  Most of the clinic’s cases involve Guardian ad Litem representation in Juvenile Court.  As such, we work to ensure that children are placed in stable settings, preferably with relatives who can care for them emotionally, financially and physically.  The Child and Family Litigation Clinic represented at least 25 neglected or abused children in the spring 2011 semester. The high number is due to the large sibling groups we have taken on.  Typical is the case of seven siblings with three different fathers, whose mother lacks stable housing, has no income, and is drug-addicted.  One child has been placed with a paternal grandmother, another has been placed with his father, and a group of five are in foster care with a maternal grandmother.  Another goal of our Guardian ad Litem work is to ensure safe and secure visitation with non-custodial parents and siblings.  The Exchange Club is a great asset in achieving this goal.  Also during this semester, the CFLC has had to affirmatively file a number of petitions on behalf of its clients.  These have included petitions for dependency and neglect, petitions for restraining orders against violent parents or boyfriends, and a petition for criminal/civil contempt.  This affirmative litigation gives students an opportunity to develop their legal drafting skills.

Student Attorneys have had the opportunity to view another practice area, i.e. the administrative hearing process under the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act.  They have represented children in TennCare administrative hearings and appeals.  The TennCare process is extremely complicated and cumbersome, and students have been considerably challenged to learn its intricacies.  Administrative and regulatory law, however, is a burgeoning field, and our students are getting hands-on experience in that arena.  These administrative matters also allow students to experience and work on two tracks simultaneously:  litigation and settlement.  Thanks largely to the expertise of Student Attorney Nicole Arsenault, who worked as a disability case manager before coming to law school, the Clinic settled all three of its TennCare appeals this semester.  One child was provided with a nighttime seizure monitor in lieu of additional personal assistant hours.  Another young man turned eighteen, and the Clinic negotiated an adult mental health placement for him.  A third child was outfitted with a custom designed wheelchair for his cerebral palsied body.  Unfortunately, this 16-year-old young man passed away in June.

The Child and Family Litigation Clinic also handled some unusual legal matters for children.  Student Attorneys secured $3,000 payments to be placed in trust for each of two siblings who were sexually abused by some boys in the neighborhood in which their mother lived.  These funds have come through a successful application to the Tennessee Victim’s Compensation Fund.  Finally, the Clinic is representing a custodian who needs to secure Families First funding for a child who is related to her within the third degree of consanguinity (a Families First rule).  Student Attorneys have had to file a petition to establish a Louisiana custody decree as a Tennessee decree in order to allow the child to receive public benefits in Tennessee.

Finally, Professor Chris Zawisza, who directs the Child and Family Litigation Clinic, presented a paper at the Thirty-second International Congress on Law and Mental Health at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, on July 19. Her talk was on “Using the Experience of Holocaust Rescuers to Teach Public Service Values.”  Her research traced several family connections through the professional literature and applies a therapeutic jurisprudence lens to the use of the research to model public service values to law students.

harknessElder Law Clinic Update
by Donna S. Harkness, CELA, Professor of Clinical Law and Director, Elder Law Clinic

 

 

During the spring 2011 semester, the Elder Law Clinic handled 48 case matters ranging from wills and powers of attorney to grandparent adoptions, consumer credit issues, and child support.  Student attorneys James Layman and Kathy Tenison successfully settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of an elderly couple that had been the victims of an out-of-state debt settlement service that promised to eliminate the couple’s debts, but wound up taking approximately $900 of their funds without paying off any of their creditors.  As part of her representation of a 60-year-old woman appealing the termination of her disability benefits, student attorney Leigh Ferguson was able to arrange for evaluation of her client’s residual functional capacity by a UT professor of physical therapy, resulting in a fully favorable decision restoring the client’s right to receive her benefits.  Building on the work of fall 2010 semester student attorney Ben Harmon, student attorney Angela Griffith secured a favorable decision on behalf of a retired railroad employee finding him not at fault with respect to earlier overpayment of railroad unemployment benefits.  Finally, student attorney Whitney Johnson helped her senior client to obtain a divorce, while student attorneys Diana Comes and Jamie Kidd successfully represented two grandmothers seeking to adopt their grandchildren.   The Elder Law Clinic has full enrollment for the fall 2011 semester.

schaffzinExternship Update
by Daniel Schaffzin, Director of Clinical Programs and Externships and Assistant Professor of Law

 

 

27 Students Take Advantage of Summer Externship Placements in Memphis
During the summer 2011 semester, 27 students enrolled the law school’s externship course, a program designed to allow upper-level students to gain experience and earn academic credit through work in a wide variety of supervised, off-campus legal settings.  In addition to working for a minimum of 16 hours per week in their placements, our student externs concurrently participated in a seminar course, taught this summer by Professor Chris Zawisza, which explored and allowed for ongoing reflection upon the many legal, ethical, and professional issues encountered during the externship experience.

The following is a listing of the offices that so graciously hosted and supervised Memphis Law externs this summer:

Judicial Externships
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
U.S. District Court
Shelby County Circuit Court

Criminal Justice Externships
U.S Attorney's Office
Shelby County Attorney General's Office
Shelby County Public Defender’s Office

Administrative Agencies
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
National Labor Relations Board

Local Government
Memphis City Attorney’s Office

Non-Profit Legal Services
Memphis Area Legal Services

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