How did we reach that conclusion? It comes from our recent in-depth research on Alabama law regarding judgment liens and real property. That yields some fairly complex legalese, but here is the simple explanation: Carol and I were joint owners of the property we called home in Birmingham for 25 years, and getting a judgment against me would not have helped Riley and Duke much.
If they knew, well in advance, that we were going to be the victims of a wrongful foreclosure and forced to flee Alabama -- while also helping Duke get her hands on more than $7,000 of our surplus foreclosure funds -- they needed something more. They needed a judgment against Carol also. And that's probably why they sued her and me, even though there was zero evidence that she was involved in any way with Legal Schnauzer at the time.
We've already shown that my reporting on the Riley/Duke relationship, the filing of their lawsuit, and a letter from a Huntsville law firm indicating our house was at risk of foreclosure, all came in the same time frame -- indicating my unlawful incarceration from the lawsuit, and the foreclosure on our house, were connected, with Rob Riley and Liberty Duke at the center of both.
Joint ownership presents a problem for those hoping to benefit from a judgment lien -- even though Duke's judgment was bogus and invalid on multiple grounds -- via a foreclosure. That is spelled out in Code of Alabama 6-9-85. Its language is murky, but we will present it first, and then try to clear the fog with language from an article on the subject:
Levy and sale on undivided interest in property.
When a defendant in execution shall own, or be entitled to, an undivided interest in any property not exclusively in his own possession, such interest may be levied on and sold by the sheriff without taking the property into actual possession, and such sale shall vest in the purchaser all the interest of the defendant in such property.
Don't feel alone if that leaves you scratching your head. Law on liens, levies, foreclosures etc. often is hard to decipher for a couple of reasons; (1) The law itself is written in a form that hardly is a model of clarity; (2) Judges often do what they want anyway, so the actual law doesn't matter much.
This much does seem clear: It's hard to get a lien that is worth much on jointly owned property if you have a judgment against only one owner. That's probably why Riley and Duke included Carol in their lawsuit, even though they had zero grounds to sue her. They already were thinking ahead to a foreclosure and a judgment lien, and that points to the kind of ulterior motive that is at the heart of a wrongful foreclosure. Someone wanted Liberty Duke to get her money fairly quickly -- and that could only happen if Duke and Riley knew we were headed for a foreclosure and they had a judgment lien against both of us.
The legal issues involved are explained with some clarity in an article from the Fullerton and Knowles law firm of Clifton, Virginia. It appears the law of judgment liens in Virginia and Alabama are similar. From the article, titled "Enforcement of Judgment":
When property has multiple owners, there are various types of joint ownership. The deed conveying the property into the current owners will normally dictates the type of ownership. The deed or bill of sale will normally say "seller grants and conveys the described real estate to Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones as tenants in common," or "as tenants by the entirety," or "as joint tenants." The normal or default manner of multiple ownership is "tenancy in common." If two people own a property and no legal papers say how they hold title, then they are tenants in common.
Tenants in common each own one half of the property, unless the deed describes some other percentage of ownership or there is some type of outside agreement. Each tenant owns one half "undivided interest" in the property. If you obtain a judgment against just one of the property owners, your judgment will attach to the one half undivided interest of your judgment debtor. You could then foreclose on your judgment lien and sell the one half undivided interest at a foreclosure auction. The purchaser at the auction would then own a one half undivided interest in the property, together with the other non-debtor owner. If one tenant in common dies, then that one half undivided interest passes to their heirs. Those heirs are then tenants in common with the remaining non-deceased tenant in common.
A 2011 federal case from the Southern District of Alabama touches on the same principle. It involved $2,038.68 in non-exempt equity on the property. From the ruling:
Further, the Debtor’s portion of that nonexempt equity is $1,019.34 because the Debtor holds the property with his wife as a tenant in common with rights of survivorship. A tenancy in common with a right of survivorship is “a form of concurrent ownership in property as tenants in common during the respective lives of the grantees with cross-contingent remainders in fee to the survivor.” Durant v. Hamrick, 409 So. 2d 731, 738 (Ala. 1982). Under a typical two-person tenancy in common, each tenant would hold a 50% interest in the property with each having a right to possession of the whole.
A judgment against only one owner of jointly owned property, against only one "tenant in common," comes with limitations. That's almost certainly why Riley and Duke unlawfully added Carol to their lawsuit; they already were looking forward with an ulterior motive -- to run us out of our home, likely forcing an end to Legal Schnauzer and helping Liberty Duke unjustly enrich herself. That's a fancy way of saying, "She stole our money." You might call the whole scheme an "end around" against the First Amendment.
Were Riley and Duke at the heart of a wrongful foreclosure, one driven not to collect a debt but by an ulterior motive? In my view, there is no doubt about it.
That issue is at the heart of federal lawsuit -- we call it "The House Case" -- which is pending in the Northern District of Alabama before Judge R. David Proctor.