|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: January 6, 2009
Re: Filing of appeal bond does not suspend judgment for fines and costs
Dear City Court Clerk,
You have asked me if a defendant found guilty in City Court is entitled to a suspended judgment pending his/her appeal to Circuit Court. The answer is "no," as there is no statute or rule in Tennessee providing that city court judgments are suspended during an appeal.
Our laws do provide methods for defendants to petition courts to suspend garnishments pending appeals, under T.C.A. ' 26-2-216. There is also a method under the Rules of Appellate Procedure to petition the court to suspend a judgment or stay an execution on a judgment pending an appeal, under Rule 7. Likewise, there is a specific rule that permits parties to file motions to stay execution on judgments under the Rules of Civil Procedure, found in Rule 62. This rule also requires that if a stay of execution is awarded, a bond must be posted by the defendant "to secure the payment of the judgment in full." Rule 62.05, TN Rules of Civil Procedure. None of these rules or laws apply to City Courts, however. Only a "court of record," which is a state court, can enter an order under Rule 62. The Rules of Appellate Procedure only apply to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
In State v. Copeland, 647 S.W.2d 241 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1983) the Court ruled that the trial court has the authority to require a defendant to post a bond sufficient to cover the fines and costs when granting a stay of execution. The defendant could be required to post such a bond in addition to any other appeal bond. Payment of the judgment could only be avoided pending appeal by posting the judgment amount with the court.
T.C.A. ' 40-24-101 specifically applies to municipal courts, and provides that a city court may direct "That the defendant pay the entire amount at the time sentence is pronounced. " T.C.A. ' 40-24-101(a)(1), emphasis added. No language is contained in the statute which indicates the judgment should be suspended pending appeal, or that the judgment otherwise is not collectable pending an appeal. In fact, there is no provision contained in the Tennessee Code that states that municipal court judgments cannot be collected while an appeal is pending.
In my opinion, absent specific statutory language granting an automatic stay pending appeal, there is no right for a defendant in a city court action to receive a suspended judgment. The judgment of the city court is enforceable on the date it is entered.
I hope this information is helpful.
Melissa A. Ashburn, J.D.