In the summer of 2012, Edd Peyton of the law firm Lewis Thomason attended a Saturday Legal Clinic at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. In the course of providing free legal service, attendee Vera Smith asked if he would agree to represent her on a pro bono basis after the clinic. He agreed. Ms. Smith had previously purchased a used vehicle and experienced numerous mechanical issues causing her to return the vehicle to the seller for repair. When Ms. Smith and the seller could not agree that the vehicle was suitably fixed, Ms. Smith asked the seller to accept the return of the vehicle in exchange for cancellation of the sales contract. The seller kept the car and Ms. Smith went on with her life.
More than four years had passed when Ms. Smith was served with a summons to appear in General Sessions to defend the seller’s claim that she had defaulted on the vehicle’s contract of sale. Mr. Peyton entered his appearance as her counsel and advised her that he would first verify the statute of limitation, prepare to defend the claim on its merits, and in a worst case scenario he would negotiate a payment plan to satisfy the outstanding balance. In his research, Peyton determined that the claim was filed after Tenn. Code Ann. § 47?2-725’s four year statute of limitations governing actions for breach of “any contract for sale” and that the plaintiff was relying on the general six-year statute of limitation governing “actions on contracts not otherwise expressly provided for.” He filed a motion for summary judgment, which was heard and granted by the General Sessions Court. He advised Ms. Smith that the plaintiff would likely appeal.
As predicted, the plaintiff appealed and filed a motion for summary judgment asking to find that Ms.Smith was justly indebted to the seller for the outstanding balance on the retail installment sales contract for the automobile. Mr. Peyton, however, could not predict that he would be recalled to active duty as a Commander in the U.S.Navy and would be deployed to Afghanistan for 9 months. He asked both Ms. Smith and the Plaintiff’s counsel to stay of the case during his deployment. According to Peyton, “I’m sure another attorney could have picked up where I left off, but Ms.Smith trusted me and I wanted to make sure I gave her the best opportunity of defending the claim.” Over the next nine months, CDR Peyton served as a legal advisor to Afghan judges, prosecutors and civil mediators in Helm and Province. Upon his return, Peyton resumed Ms. Smith’s defense. The Circuit Court denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case against Ms. Smith. “I enjoy serving my country in the Navy, but it also feels good to provide pro bono service and to help someone who might not have access to quality and affordable legal service,” said Peyton.
The following article appeared in the July, 2014 Memphis Area Legal Services Newsletter, and is reprinted with the permission of MALS.