How a creditor can enforce her judgment
1. Traditional Means: File a new lawsuit and obtain a judgment in the current jurisdiction (need only prove validity of judgment, not underlying substance); or
2. Register the foreign judgment pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (“UEFJA” or the “Act”).
Forty-eight states that have adopted some form of the uniform Act (California and Vermont have not). Tennessee’s version of the Act provides that a final judgment entered by a court in one state may be enforced in Tennessee by obtaining an authenticated copy of the judgment and filing it with the appropriate Tennessee court. Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-104.
(a) A copy of any foreign judgment authenticated in accordance with the acts of congress or the statutes of this state may be filed in the office of the clerk of any circuit or chancery court of this state.
(b) The clerk shall treat the foreign judgment in the same manner as a judgment of a court of record of this state.
(c) A judgment so filed has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses and proceedings for reopening, vacating, or staying as a judgment of a court of record of this state and may be enforced or satisfied in like manner.
Tenn. Code § 26-6-104.
An exemplified judgment is a copy of the judgment to which a certificate has been attached and signed in three places, once by the judge and twice by the clerk, attesting to the authenticity and validity of the judgment. It is frequently called a judgment that has been authenticated pursuant to an Act of Congress.
The Act also stipulates the technical procedures for filing the judgment and providing notice and service of process on the judgment debtor. Specifically, Tenn. Code § 26-6-105 requires that
(a) At the time of the filing of the foreign judgment, the judgment creditor or the judgment creditor's lawyer shall make and file with the clerk of the court an affidavit setting forth the name and last known post office address of the judgment debtor, and the judgment creditor.
The Act directs courts in Tennessee to treat the foreign judgment in the same manner as a judgment of a court of record in Tennessee. Once a foreign judgment has been enrolled, it has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses, and proceedings for reopening, vacating, or staying as a judgment of a court of record in Tennessee and may be enforced or satisfied in the same manner. No execution or any other collection process, however, may be initiated until 30 days after the summons is served on the defendant. Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-105(c).
Once the 30 days is up, the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure require filing a Request for Execution with the court. Most Tennessee courts will also require a hearing (although not called for in the statute or rules). If a judgment debtor does dispute the Notice of Filing Foreign Judgment, Tennessee’s Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act entitles the debtor to a trial on the merits concerning the underlying validity of the judgment, and the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure govern the trial on the merits on that answer and response.
When a Tennessee court can deny domesticating a foreign judgment:
• Void due to a lack of personal or subject-matter jurisdiction
• Based upon fraud
• Where enforcement of the judgment would violate the public policy of the forum state
In BancorpSouth Bank v. Johnson, W2012-00452-COA-R3CV, 2013 WL 3770856 (Tenn. App. 2013)., an Arkansas debtor alleged improper in a foreclosure valuation. He asserted the public policy defense saying Tennessee had a strong public policy of requiring a proper showing of valuation of a foreclosure sale before allowing a deficiency. The Appeals Court agreed but nonetheless held that the public policy of enforcing sister state judgments trumped.
Hart v. Tourte, 10 S.W.3d 263 (Tenn. App. 1999) concerned a judgment first entered in California. Originally, the judgment was denied domestication in Tennessee because it did not have exemplified judgment attached. The creditor renewed the California judgment ten years later and then sought to domesticate in Tennessee. On appeal, the court said the ten year period of limitations had not passed since the renewed judgment was effectively the same as the original judgment. Also, the creditor’s failure to get the original judgment domesticated the first time (which failed due to the exemplification issue) was not res judicata as to renewed judgment. On the other hand, the debtor’s affidavit that he was not properly served in original California matter precluded summary judgment to creditor.
In Cadlerock, LLC v. Weber, E2010-02137-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. App. 2011), the court held that an assignee of a New Jersey judgment (Cadlerock bought judgment from original plaintiff) had just as much right to domesticate as the person first obtaining the judgment.
Federal District Court Judgments
Registration of a federal district court judgment is also very straightforward. A certified copy of the final judgment must be filed with the local court. Service upon the debtor is not mandatory.
Once registered in the local district, the judgment has "the same effect as a judgment of the district court of the district where registered and may be enforced in like manner." (28 USC 1963).
Judgments Entered in Foreign Countries