Ripped off twice? Consumers say judgments don’t always equal justice

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RIPLEY, Tenn. -- Tiffany Meyers and her fiance, John Elder, hired a contractor in 2015 to do some major renovations to their Ripley, Tennessee home.

"The roof, so it don't leak, we wanted to have the upstairs re-done," plus a finished basement explained Meyers.

Meyers told WREG they hired Joey Morgan to handle the job.

"He said a certain date and he asked us for a certain amount of money up front."

But after several months and lots of money, Morgan and his crew stopped showing up.

"It was just one excuse after another."

According to Meyers, Morgan left them with a leaky roof, warped floors, exposed wiring and a gutted basement. They took Morgan to court. Elder filed a civil warrant in Lauderdale County General Sessions Court. The judge ruled in their favor by default after Morgan didn't show up. The unlicensed contractor was ordered to pay them $12,412.40.

"Have you gotten any of that money?"

"None, one dime not even a penny," replied Meyers.

Unfortunately, Meyers and Elder learned the hard way, that just because you take someone to court, doesn't mean you'll get justice.

Richard Jennings is the Lauderdale County Circuit Court Clerk.

WREG asked him, "Are there a lot of cases where people don't get their money?"

"Sometimes, yes ma'am," Jennings replied.

A pamphlet in the clerk's office explained how the court isn't responsible for collecting judgments. If defendants don't pay, plaintiffs can try to collect through wage garnishment, or an execution on bank accounts or personal property. But, Jennings said if the person runs a small business or is broke, it can cost the consumer more in the long run.

"It's just a waste. I say a waste of time for the plaintiff to invest court costs when there's no way of collecting it," said Jennings.

Meyers said not being able to collect that judgment left them feeling like they were ripped off twice.

"All we had to do, we kept paying more and more money, just to try to get him to pay us back."

They tried everything, including the levy on personal property and checking Morgan's bank accounts. Records showed Elder paid $47 for each execution and attempt to serve Morgan. Those fees, plus initial court costs, totaled $265 for Elder.

Morgan filed for bankruptcy in 2015, then again last year, which halts any lower court action.

Meyers told WREG, "We ain't get nothing. They pretty much said it's a lost cause."

However, Morgan's troubles aren't over. WREG was in the the courtroom earlier this month in Dyer County as he stood before a judge. He's facing two indictments for theft of property.

The victims have similar stories, claiming they paid Morgan and his company, Renovation Concepts, thousands for renovations that were never completed. Morgan was present at the hearing, wearing an orange jumpsuit. He's currently in custody in Madison County due to a probation violation stemming from a 2013 theft of property conviction.

The On Your Side Investigators tried to get Morgan's side of the story.

His wife answered the door at their Newbern home.

WREG said, "We got some complaints about some of the work that he did, a family up in Ripley, Tennessee."

Mrs. Morgan said, "I can't comment on that."

Morgan's attorney, Martin Howie, wouldn't comment on the complaints either when the News Channel 3 Investigators spoke with him outside the courtroom in Dyer County.

"I've not had any discussions or contact with the families so I can't speak to that."

Meyers said after paying the contractor and court system, they don't have money to finish the renovations.

However, she hopes Morgan is finished.

"I'd like for him to get what's coming for him."

How to Collect Judgments

  • Lien on real estate owned by judgment debtor
  • Levy to collect judgment from bank accounts

WREG spoke with Attorney Matthew Jones of Memphis Area Legal Services about the best way for plaintiffs to collect judgments. He explained that collecting judgments from small businesses can be difficult because they can be run as LLCs and not own many assets.

How does a plaintiff know what to go after?

Jones said, "The most powerful tool for finding out what a business owns or how it does business is a Subpoena In Aid of Execution or a Judgment Debtor Exam."

"Essentially, a person with a judgment can have the court issue a subpoena for the business to show up in court and testify under oath on what assets it owns, what accounts receivable it may have, where it banks, etc."

Judgments Expire

Judgments in Tennessee expire after 10 years. A plaintiff can go back to court to request the judgment be extended for another 10-year period.

Jones saidin general, collecting judgments requires "investigation and diligence". He said in some cases, it's best to hire an attorney that specializes in collecting judgments.