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Enforcing a Judgment in Another State – Why and How

| Sep 13, 2015 | Business Litigation

You have won your civil case and gotten a judgment. The time for all appeals and post-trial motions has ended. Enforcing your judgment is usually the last step. A judgment in your favor provides enforceable rights, usually the right to be paid by the judgment debtor and often providing non-monetary rights as well. In many cases, happily, this is the end of the road.

But what if the money owed is not paid by the judgment debtor? Legal procedures to enforce a judgment and collect are available in state and federal courts throughout the United States. In Maryland, for example, the judgment itself may be used for collection of the money owed by a writ of execution levying on assets belonging to the judgment debtor or by a writ of garnishment of the debtor’s property in the hands of a third person. See Md. Rules 2-641 to 2-646. Generally, if the judgment debtor has money or assets in the state where the judgment was entered, then you can use the procedures available in the court that entered the judgment.

What can be done, however, if money or assets of the judgment debtor are located in another state, not in the state where the court that entered the judgment is located? In this situation, recording the judgment in a court in the state where the assets are located is necessary. For example, suppose the judgment debtor has no assets in State A where the judgment was entered, but does have assets in State B. When a judgment from a state court in State A is recorded in a state court in State B, you can use the execution and garnishment procedures of State B to enforce and collect the amount due under the judgment.

This article will review the transmittal and recording procedures of the circuit courts in Maryland, plus the transmittal and recording procedures of judgments between federal courts. Courts around the country have their own, sometimes unique procedures. Nevertheless, the review in this article will give you an idea of what to generally expect when recording a judgment from another state.

State Court or Federal District Court to State Court

In Maryland, filing and having another state court record your judgment from a sister state or from a federal court is accomplished pursuant to Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Judicial Proc. §§ 11-801, et seq. (the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act)[1] and Maryland Rule 2-623.

As a practical matter, here is what you or your attorney has to do to record a judgment. First, you will need a certified or authenticated copy of the judgment from the court in State A where you originally obtained the judgment. Md. Rule 2-623. Next, with a certified or authenticated copy of the original judgment in hand, it is best to call the clerk of the court in which you want to have the judgment recorded in order to determine the precise procedure to follow. (You may have to speak with a supervisor, because some persons in the clerk’s office may not be familiar with the process.) Some courts will accept a letter requesting the court in State B to file the judgment, other courts may require a formal pleading or other filing and/or opening a miscellaneous case so the judgment can be docketed, and other courts may have a specific form to use. When speaking with the court clerk, you should also verify the fee required to file the judgment.

In all cases, the request to file the foreign judgment must be accompanied by an affidavit showing the name and last known post office address of the judgment debtor and the judgment creditor. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Judicial Proc. § 11-803(a). Once the clerk accepts the filing, the clerk will mail notice of the filing to the judgment debtor and the judgment has the same effect as a judgment of the court in which it is filed. Id. at §§ 11-802(a)(2) and (b), 803(b)(1); Md. Rule 2-601(c). In Maryland, once a judgment is recorded and indexed, it acts as a lien on the defendant’s interest in land in the county where the judgment is recorded from the date of recording and in the amount of the judgment and post-judgment interest. If the judgment needs to be filed and recorded and indexed quickly, the best way to ensure this happens is for you or your attorney to go to the courthouse and speak with the clerk in person; it may also require the filing of a motion to expedite the process.

Federal Court to Federal Court

The law governing recording judgments of one federal court in another federal court is derived from Article IV, Section I of the U.S. Constitution, the “full faith and credit” clause. Congress has enacted statutes codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1738[2] and 1963 in carrying out the full faith and credit clause.Section 1963 specifically sets forth the manner in which a judgment of one federal court is registered in another federal court and provides that a “judgment so registered shall have the same effect as a judgment of the district court of the district where registered and may be enforced in like manner.” See also 28 U.S.C. § 1962 (federal judgments as liens on property just like a state court judgment). The United States Courts website provides a form that can be used to register a judgment pursuant to § 1963. This form can be used in any federal court, but you should also check to see if the court where you are registering the judgment has its own local form.

The process of recording a state judgment in a federal court or vice versa is not expressly covered by either the Maryland or Federal statutes and rules. More to come on this topic in a subsequent post.

In conclusion, recording your judgment in another state or federal court may make it worth more than the paper it’s printed on.

[1] Use Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Judicial Proc. §§ 10-701, et seq. (the Maryland Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act) in order to have a Maryland court recognize a money judgment from a foreign country. For additional, general guidance on this topic, see the guidance published by the Federal Judicial Center concerning the recognition and enforcement in the United States of judgments from courts in foreign countries, found here.

[2] 28 U.S.C. § 1738 is a procedural, evidentiary statute and establishes the manner in which judgments must be certified in order to be granted full faith and credit by the federal courts.