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Old debts

Would you believe a 77-year-old woman in Florida wants to collect on a 147-year-old promissory note?

TAMPA -- In the early months of the Civil War, the city of Tampa needed ammunition and other supplies to defend against attack but apparently was short on cash.

So it issued a promissory note for $299.58 to storekeeper Thomas Pugh Kennedy on June 21, 1861.

Kennedy's great-granddaughter says the city never made good on its loan. Now, Joan Kennedy Biddle and her family are suing to collect the payment plus 8 percent annual interest.

The total bill: $22.7-million.

"Obviously we came at a bad time because the city seems like they're trying to cut their budget," she said. "On the other hand, they're building the Riverwalk."

Attorney James Purdy filed the suit in the Hillsborough Circuit Court last week.


Tampa City Attorney David Smith said he doesn't consider the claim valid.

In legal documents, Biddle's attorney argues that the statute of limitations doesn't apply in the case because at the time the note was issued, the state had no such statute on such documents.

And Biddle pointed out that in the 1990s the federal government agreed to pay the Seminole tribe for land illegally taken in the 1820s.

But attorney John Grandoff said the city can defend against the case using the "doctrine of laches," which prevents claims from being made after an extraordinary passage of time.

It is amazing someone comes along only now to collect or maybe not? Who knows when it comes to Florida. Isn't this a great state or what?


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Comments (8)

Why not try to colle... (Below threshold)
Jack Rudd:

Why not try to collect?
52 years ago I loaned a penny to a junior high classmate. I fully intend to collect with interest at our 50 year high school reunion.

Its a stupid stunt, the sta... (Below threshold)

Its a stupid stunt, the statute of limitations argument is definitive.

The "why now" question coul... (Below threshold)

The "why now" question could be as simple as sorting through old family documents that haven't been looked at for generations.

It does seem sort of silly, though. Opportunistic for sure.

No one is going to view the claim as just, even if it could pass muster on technicalities. The only one who was really out his money was the first fellow who lent it. The great-great-grands aren't out anything at all.

It depends on the note. If... (Below threshold)

It depends on the note. If it was written to be repaid at a certain time, then the bondholder may have had some obligation to take steps to collect at that time. If it was written as an open-ended line of credit at a specified interest, though, the city may be on the hook to pay it off - and why not? They did borrow the money, no one is apparently contesting that.

The "doctrine of laches" referred to is often used as a defense in civil cases where statutory limitations do not apply or are in question. The basic idea is that if you delay making a claim for too long a time, you must either satisfy the court there is a good reason for the delay, or that blocking the claim would be unfair for some other reason recognized by law.

An example from recent cases include a company suing another company for what it claimed was fees owed after they renegotiated their contract. They had continued to accept payments at the old rate, and the new contract was verbally authorized but never signed. A few years later, they tried to collect the difference (having never submitted bills for it as it happened), and the courts threw the case out.

Typically this doctrine does NOT cover "ongoing claims" such as alimony payments which continue to accrue over time. Presumably an open-ended loan constantly earning interest would fall under this exception. Again, the specific wording of the note may be critical - clauses specifying payment "on demand" after a certain period without imposing a limit would tend to validate the claim, but if a date of payment were specified it would tend to work against the claimant.

Please note I am not an attorney, am not licensed to practice law in Florida or any other state, and am not offering the above as legal advice.

I think this is a hilarious... (Below threshold)

I think this is a hilarious story. The $22 million figure is ridiculous, but the city should settle for the amount plus a small, symbolic interest. I mean hey, they got the money from her ancestor when they really needed it, and I doubt the city of Tampa is hurting financially.

I wonder if they will get p... (Below threshold)

I wonder if they will get paid in confederate dollars?

It sounds like the city wen... (Below threshold)

It sounds like the city went bankrupt and unincorporated about 20 years after the note, which might also considerably lessen their claim.

As far as Confederate Dollars go, they tend to sell at a premium now, though for a long time they were better used as toilet paper and liners for chicken coops.

I saw this on the Andy Grif... (Below threshold)

I saw this on the Andy Griffith Show. Exactly the same scenario. The way it works out is that the loan was made when Confederate dollars were the legal tender. After the war, that money is no longer valid so the debt is no longer valid.

Tell them to call Andy. He'll work it out.






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