Tampa Woman Tries To Collect Loan Made By Her Great-Grandfather During Civil War

Some debt collectors are mighty persistent.

NPR says that a 77-year-old Tampa woman, Joan Kennedy Biddle, is suing to collect on a $300 loan that her great-grandfather made to the city of Tampa 147 years ago, during the Civil War. That modest debt (with interest) has grown to a little under $23 million dollars.

Biddle is in possession of an IOU signed by Tampa’s mayor promising to repay her ancestor for money borrowed to purchase supplies to be used in defense of the city of Tampa. The IOU is dated 1861, after Florida joined the Confederacy. When asked why she’s trying to collect the debt now, Biddle told NPR: “Better late than never.”

In defense of itself, the City of Tampa came up with a rather impressive list of reasons why the debt is not valid, not least of which is the fact that it was payable in Confederate dollars — a currency that no longer exists. It seems that Ms. Biddle’s IOU may do better on Antiques Roadshow than it will in a court room.

Tampa Woman Sues City for Unpaid Civil War Loan [NPR]

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. bdsakx says:

    My oh my how the times have changed!

  2. tomok97 says:

    Her grandfather loaned money to a “country” that no longer exists. It would be like trying to collect money from Siam.

  3. MickeyMoo says:

    maybe if she has herself frozen for 1000 years – it will accrue enough interest to buy the last can of sardines on earth…

  4. ClayS says:

    She should claim it on her income tax return as a bad debt.

  5. MickeyMoo says:

    DOH! Anchovies…

  6. APFPilot says:

    @MickeyMoo: I’d rather have Ted Danza’s skeleton

  7. Milstar says:

    um wasn’t the Civil War & such confederate dollars over many yrs prior to that loan? Something isn’t making sense.

  8. MaliBoo Radley says:

    @APFPilot:

    Surely you mean Tony Danza …

    Don’t get you Danza’s and Danson’s confused!!

  9. @Milstar: I think its a math error. The 147 years is right (for 1861), but yeah, the civil war was long over in 1871

  10. MaliBoo Radley says:

    @Milstar:

    The civil war 1860-65

    The loan 1860 …

    I don’t see the problem.

  11. Crazytree says:

    the city should sue her for FDCPA and FCRA violations!

  12. Pylon83 says:

    @Crazytree:
    She’s not a third party debt collector, so the FDCPA doesn’t apply.

    She’s lose, probably on laches.

  13. Crazytree says:

    @radleyas: the story says the debt was incurred in 1871 which is a typo.

  14. Crazytree says:

    @Pylon83: depends on what the definition of “third-party debt collector” is.

    if it means a licensed debt collection agency, then it may not apply. otherwise she is a third party (her great-grandfather was the lending party) and she is now attempting to collect the debt.

    unless there is an exception for debt passed down through blood kin, she is BY DEFINITION, a third-party debt collector.

  15. edosan says:

    1) Pay her in Confederate money. Problem solved.

    2) The U.S. can imprison her for aiding and abetting an enemy in time of war. Second problem solved.

  16. jmschn says:

    LoL people obviously don’t attempt to redeem things like this earlier because the longer they wait, the more they can take!

  17. BigElectricCat says:

    Wouldn’t collection of the debt be time-barred?

  18. timmus says:

    Nice of you all to run my picture in the headline… though I was on the other side of the war.

  19. sixninezero says:

    This is right out of The Andy Griffith Show almost line for line.

    Season 2, Episode 4: Mayberry Goes Bankrupt
    Original Air Date: 23 October 1961
    Frank Myers is a kindly old man who lives in a rundown house which the town council feels is an eyesore. He is also delinquent on back taxes and they decide to evict him. Andy is opposed but is forced to serve papers. The Taylors decide to take him in until he can find a permanent place to live. While looking through his valuables Andy finds a 100 year old bond which is redeemable for the face value plus 8 1/2% interest compounded annually. The council panics when they find out the town of Mayberry owes Frank Myers over $349,000 dollars.

  20. rmz says:

    That’s actually a good idea to take it on Antiques Roadshow. That would be interesting to see.

  21. Snarkysnake says:

    We already covered this EXACT situation in an old episode of “The Andy Griffith Show”. Jeeze ,doesn’t anybody pay attention ?

  22. catskyfire says:

    On a technical level, the loan was to the City, not the confederacy.

  23. m4ximusprim3 says:

    @catskyfire: Right, but it was made in confederate dollars, and the technical exchange rate for those is $0:$1, so the city is right, they don’t owe her squat.

  24. ivanthemute says:

    Epic fail (but a nice try.)

  25. Buran says:

    @tomok97: “It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople!”

  26. banmojo says:

    The press this’ll generate may find her some rich antique collectors who dig this kind of rarity. And it’s a great story too.

  27. NoLongerInUse says:

    This was out weeks ago.
    The ‘best’ reason is that the city was not the same city then. The old city unincorporated and the current city is a new corporation.

    /former Tampa resident

  28. Doctor_Flarb says:

    I wonder if anyone has ever tried to collect on a Monopoly debt… You know how it is, I loan you (Monopoly) money to avoid losing the game, and 10 years later I sue you for outstanding debt.

    I wonder what the interest rate at Parker Brothers is…

  29. Mr. Gunn says:

    BigElectricCat: Indeed, time barred debt for quite a while now, not to mention the devaluing of the currency. $23,000,000 in confederate dollars at an exchange rate of what?

  30. Crazytree says:

    confederate money wasn’t issued until April 1861 so there’s a good chance that this is in US dollars.

    also the issue of being “time barred” raises some issues. at what point does an outstanding debt stop accruing interest? with most companies its when it’s “charged off” and sent to a third party collection agency. perhaps when the promisee dies? I don’t know.

  31. Buran says:

    @edosan: The war ended a loooooooooooooooong time ago.

  32. mac-phisto says:

    in other news, tampa’s fitch rating reduced from a- to d after knowledge of their inability to pay obligations emerged in the media.

  33. erica.blog says:

    @edosan: That would probably cost a lot more than just paying it off :D

    @Buran: As a northerner who recently moved to the South, let me assure you, not everybody down here thinks so…

  34. spinachdip says:

    [www.fair-debt-collection.com]

    Florida Statutes of Limitation

    Contract or written instrument and for mortgage foreclosure: 5 years. F.S. 95.11.

    Libel, slander, or unpaid wages: 2 years.

    Judgments: 20 years total and to be a lien on any real property, it has to be re-recorded for a second time at 10 years.

    The limitations period begins from the date the last element of the cause of action occurred, (95.051). NOTE: The limitation period is tolled (stopped) for any period during which the debtor is absent from the state and each time a voluntary payment is made on a debt arising from a written instrument.

    Almost all other actions fall under the 4-year catch-all limitations period, (F.S. 95.11(3)(p)).

    It seems City of Tampa is in the clear if the 5-year SOL has passed. So the big question is, have 5 years passed since 1871?

  35. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Section 4 of the 14th Amendment runs as follows:

    The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

  36. @spinachdip: The debt’s from 1860; you probably have to use whatever the time limit was in 1860. Anybody got a copy of Florida’s 1860 statutes?

    It was a probably a common law thing back then, so I’m going to guess “seven years.”

  37. XTC46 says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: well done.

  38. nequam says:

    @spinachdip: Applying the statute of limitations assume that we know the due date of the IOU. If the IOU does not say something like “to be paid no later than 18XX,” then there is no date from which to run to limitations period.

    On the surface, at least, this IOU appears to be similar to a bond. A municipal bond is essentially a loan to a city/town. Bonds typically provide for a certain payment at maturity, but continue to earn interest thereafter. They do not become stale (or uncollectible) over time.

    That said, the Confederacy-thing may be the real issue.

  39. nequam says:

    @nequam: EDIT!! “assumes” and “to run the”

  40. legotech says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: *golf clap*

  41. katylostherart says:

    if it’s in confederate dollars they should pay her with confederate dollars in good condition and then it’s up to her to sell those for current value which is about $25 a bill depending on condition.

  42. katylostherart says:

    also the statute of limitations on debt collecting would have be retroactive. this debt may be grandfathered in.

  43. spinachdip says:

    @nequam: I wondered about that, but I figured IOU was more like a bank loan and not like a publicly issued/auctioned bond.

  44. Crazytree says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: was the debt incurred in furtherance of the “insurrection” or was it just borrowed by Tampa to run its civil affairs? for some reason I don’t think of Tampa being a huge supplier of war materiel to the Confederate war machine.

  45. Crazytree says:

    the reason this will never happen is that if it does, there’s going to be a lot of money to be made by professional counterfeiters who specialize in old paper.

  46. WraithSama says:

    @Crazytree:
    Hey, if Fry’s bank account didn’t stop accruing interest in 1,000 years, I think grandma here is fine. ;)

  47. nequam says:

    @spinachdip: You’re probab;y right. I was just thinking out loud.

  48. iMike says:

    If I were the city, I’d pay her a reasonable fee (a couple thousand bucks?) for the IOU, generate some goodwill and get an artifact for some museum somewhere.

  49. @CumaeanSibyl: And the moral of the story is: never loan money to the g’vt during a war.

    Oops!

  50. azntg says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: You’d better get ready to run though… they’ll run your arse out of town if you don’t “loan” them the money.

  51. DeltaPurser says:

    What a DOUCHE! They should let her run up a bill with some ambulance chaser before denying her claim.

    I swear… some people have waaaaay too much time on their hands!

  52. RandomHookup says:

    Well, if nothing else, she just increased the sales price of a 150 year old IOU by about 100%.

  53. Parting says:

    @DeltaPurser: She’s 77. She has plenty of time.

  54. tk427 says:

    They should pay her off with Convederate $50 dollar bills which are going for $36.07 on ebay.

  55. tk427 says:

    Confederate

  56. jjason82 says:

    @MickeyMoo: I had the exact same thought when reading this.

  57. Candyman says:

    @tomok97: Worse; Siam still exists. They changed the name to Thailand, but there was no political change. It’s still the same country.

  58. Candyman says:

    @ClayS:
    Ooooo…. good thinking.

  59. Candyman says:

    @spinachdip:

    I’ve always been amused that the acronym SOL works both for Statutes of limitations and S#!+ Out of Luck.

  60. Candyman says:

    @CumaeanSibyl:

    I don’t think Tampa is a State. The City is the plaintiff, not the state.

  61. Candyman says:

    @tk427: 23 mil of them? Heck, doesn’t sound too bad a trade-off to me. But I do doubt whether there are enough of them still in existance.

  62. Trai_Dep says:

    @edosan: I just witnessed the Wisdom of Solomon. Here on Consumerist!

  63. @tomok97:

    its actually different : Siam does still exist in the form of Thailand. It never stopped to exist, just changed its name after the aboloshment of the absoute monarchy (thai means free)

    A better example would be the Estonia in 1941, which was conquered by the Soviet Union and then incorporated into the SU.

  64. BrianU says:

    Unlike the Dollars ( Federal Reserve Notes ) that we have in our pockets, If the Confederate Dollar was, at that time, backed in silver and/or gold, then a Confederate Dollar isn’t “worth zero” ; it’s directly equivilent and convertable to silver/and/oor gold e.g. each Confederate Dollar could be exchanged on demand for 1 ounce of silver. Just look at the U.S. Mint’s current Silve Eagle 1 Dollar coin, which is an ounce of silver – it’s worth about 18 paper FRN Dollars. If anything, Tampa owes 300 ounces of silver, plus interest if applicable.

  65. choinski says:

    I heard the NPR story. Apart from the ‘loan in Confederate dollars’ argument, they had two other pretty good reasons to invalidate the debt:
    1. The US Constitution protects against having to pay debt incurred for insurrection against the United States
    2. The city of Tampa that incurred the debt is not the same entity as modern Tampa; that city went bankrupt and was dissolved, not to be reincorporated for another 15 years

  66. BigElectricCat says:

    @Crazytree:

    If the debt is time-barred, the accrual of interest is irrelevant, I’d think.

    If the SOL bell has tolled, you can charge whatever interest you want for eternity, but you can’t get a judgment and you can’t attach the debtor’s assets, wages or accounts.

    Charge a zillion percent if you like; it won’t make any difference.

  67. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @banmojo: I have to think that is the real reason she’s doing this as opposed to actually believing they’ll pay her anything.

    The government made a bunch of promises it didn’t keep back then. She has no reason to expect there’ll be an exception made for her.

  68. vladthepaler says:

    Hello, statute of limitations?

  69. 00exmachina says:

    @spinachdip:
    The law was passed after the debt was incurred though. A lawyer (which I’m not) may have a better call on if that means the debt is still valid because it existed before the law or if they had the listed time frame from the date the law was enacted to collect.

  70. guspaz says:

    The city should pay her back, but not $23 million. IOUs don’t accrue interest, normally…

    Figure out the exchange rate at the time of the loan, convert that into US dollars. Then account for inflation.

    I have no idea what the exchange rate was back then, but for the sake of producing something, let’s say it was 1.0. $300 would then be worth $10,762.02 today. This would not be an unreasonably large amount to pay out.

  71. kbarrett says:

    @spinachdip: Less than 5 Saturnian years have passed since 1861.

  72. kbarrett says:

    Of course, if you use Saturnian years, a bit less interest is owned.

  73. @Candyman: The U.S. Constitution doesn’t acknowledge cities as something distinct from a state, so that amendment should apply to Tampa. (If the definition of “state” didn’t include cities, the Bill of Rights would be in serious trouble.)

  74. The Porkchop Express says:

    @Crazytree: cigars, tons and tons of cigars

  75. dsolimini says:

    A few things….

    the amendment RE: insurrection debt is about debt of the United States, not any state or any political subdivision of a state. Federalism!

    Exchange rate: Varied greatly during the war as the confederacy overprinted currency and drove inflation through the roof.

    Sounds like a municipal bond issue — interest is applicable.

    SoL: Would be based on the past 1860 statute unless current statute explicitly notes all PAST debts as being held to a new limit.

  76. olegna says:

    It doesn’t matter because if the city has re-incorporated, the US protects businesses from paying out debts. (The US system is very pro-business and anti-worker that way.) I know because I was screwed out of $9,000 by a company that simply re-incorporated itself to avoid paying out money owed to freelancers. If that can happen today, it certainly applies in this case: that Tampa is different incorporated entity than it was back then and therefore the woman would be trying to collect on a incorporated entity that no longer exists. In other words: there really is not defendant.

  77. Mary says:

    @guspaz: “The city should pay her back, but not $23 million. IOUs don’t accrue interest, normally…”

    That’s what I was curious about. Normally, wouldn’t an interest rate like that have to be specified on the IOU and if it isn’t, then I would assume they just owe her $300. Where did she pull this interest rate? Or is it inflation? And if it’s inflation, then confederate dollars didn’t inflate…

  78. Mary says:

    To correct myself, confederate dollars are worth less now than they were then. I’m not into economics so I don’t know the proper terminology. But as others have pointed out, the exchange rate is miserable.