Foreign judgments are judgments from different states or countries. In order to enforce your judgment in a state different from where it was rendered, you must first follow a statutory process of domestication. The domestication of foreign judgments validates the foreign judgment in the state in which it will ultimately be enforced for the collection of a sum of money. Essentially, domestication converts the foreign judgment into a domestic judgment for enforcement purposes. To state the obvious, domestication is generally a condition precedent to enforcement, although the procedure varies depending on whether the foreign judgment is out-of-state or out-of-country.
Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act
The procedure for the domestication of out-of-state foreign judgments is codified in Fla. Stat § 55.501, the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. In addition to money judgments, the term “foreign judgment” also applies to decrees or orders from out-of-state courts, as long as they are entitled to full faith and credit in Florida.
The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution requires states to respect the judicial acts of another. Thus, there really is no barrier to domestication of an out-of-state foreign judgment, save certain limited due process and procedural arguments, as follows (among others):
- No personal jurisdiction
- No subject matter jurisdiction
- Extrinsic fraud
- Lack of finality
In addition, failure to strictly adhere to the notice and recording requirements in the statute can be fatal to a domestication action.
Pursuant to the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, a copy of the foreign judgment must first be recorded with the clerk of the circuit court. Fla. Stat. § 55.503. At the time of the recording, the judgment creditor must also file and record with the clerk an affidavit setting forth the name, social security number, and last known post office address of the judgment debtor and of the judgment creditor. Fla. Stat. § 55.505(1). Once properly recorded, the foreign judgment becomes a Florida judgment for enforcement purposes, although the judgment creditor cannot commence enforcement proceedings until thirty days after the clerk mails notice of the same to the judgment debtor. Fla. Stat. § 55.505(3). The clerk will promptly mail the judgment and affidavit to the judgment debtor along with a Notice of Recording of Foreign Judgment, which advises the judgment debtor that, among other things, a response is required within thirty days. Fla. Stat. § 55.505(2). It is prudent for the judgment creditor to mail the same notice, along with a copy of the foreign judgment and affidavit, to the judgment debtor, and to record proof of mailing with the court. In the event the clerk does not mail the notice (which happens), the judgment creditor can rely on its own proof of mailing to the satisfaction of the court.
If the judgment debtor does not respond in opposition to the foreign judgment within thirty days, the judgment creditor may commence enforcement proceeds. If within this thirty day period the judgment debtor formally responds to the Notice of Recording of Foreign judgment by filing an action opposing its domestication and records a lis pendes directed toward the foreign judgment, the court will stay enforcement until such issues are resolved during an evidentiary hearing. If the debtor objects to the domestication of the foreign judgment after the thirty days, the court will only stay enforcement if the judgment debtor proves to the satisfaction of the court that a stay is warranted, and a bond is posted. Fla. Stat. § 55.509(1).
The Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act provides a cost efficient and streamlined procedure for the domestication of out-of-state judgments, although it does not prevent a judgment creditor from filing a new, separate action to domestication the judgment. Fla. Stat. § 55.502(2).
Uniform Out-of-country Foreign Money-Judgment Recognition Act
Foreign judgments rendered outside of the United States must be domesticated in Florida pursuant to the Uniform Out-of-country Foreign Money-Judgment Recognition Act, codified in Fla. Stat. § 55.601. As a preliminary note, the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not apply to the domestication of out-of-country foreign judgments. To that effect, no state is required to respect, or give full faith and credit to, foreign judgments rendered outside the United States. This weighs in favor of the judgment debtor, of course, as out-of-country foreign judgments are highly scrutinized in court and subject to numerous arguments in opposition enumerated in the Act. In addition, the definition of “foreign judgment” in this context applies only to judgments granting or denying the recovery of a sum of money, excepting judgments for taxes, fines, and penalties. Fla. Stat. § 55.602(2).
As is the case with out-of-state foreign judgments, out-of-country foreign judgments must first be recognized, or domesticated, before being enforced. The burden is first on the judgment creditor to prove that the foreign judgment is valid, final, and conclusive where rendered, and that it grants or denies the recovery of a sum of money. Fla. Stat. § 55.603. It does not matter that the foreign judgment is appealed or subject to appeal – this does not affect its finality. It is sufficient to prove finality and that the judgment grants or denies the recovery of a sum of money in an affidavit filed by the judgment creditor, which must also set forth setting forth the name, social security number, if known, and last known post-office address of the judgment debtor and of the judgment creditor. Fla. Stat. § 55.604. The judgment is recorded simultaneously with the filing of the affidavit, and the clerk mails to the judgment debtor a Notice of Recording of Out-of-country Foreign Judgment, and shall make note of the mailing on the record. Fla. Stat. § 55.604(1)(b). It would be wise for the judgment creditor to do the same and to record proof of mailing on the court docket; if so, the clerk’s failure to mail the notice (which happens) will not affect the rights of the judgment creditor to enforce the foreign judgment.
After service of the Notice of Recording of Out-of-country Foreign Judgment, the judgment shall have thirty days to respond in opposition to the domestication of the foreign judgment, and shall file a Notice of Objection specifying all grounds for nonrecognition or nonenforceability of the same. Fla. Stat. § 55.604(2). A timely filed Notice of Objection will stay enforcement proceedings until the judge enters an order granting or denying the recognition of the foreign judgment. Fla. Stat. § 55.604(5). These grounds are specifically enumerated in Fla. Stat. § 55.605, which encompass both mandatory and discretionary grounds for nonrecognition, as follows:
MANDATORY GROUNDS FOR NONRECOGNITION
An out-of-country foreign judgment is not conclusive if:
- The judgment was rendered under a system which does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law
- The foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant
- The foreign court did not have jurisdiction over the subject matter
DISCRETIONARY GROUNDS FOR NONRECOGNITION
An out-of-country foreign judgment need not be recognized if:
- The defendant in the proceedings in the foreign court did not receive notice of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him or her to defend
- The judgment was obtained by fraud
- The cause of action or claim for relief on which the judgment is based is repugnant to the public policy of this state
- The judgment conflicts with another final and conclusive order
- The proceeding in the foreign court was contrary to an agreement between the parties under which the dispute in question was to be settled otherwise than by proceedings in that court
- In the case of jurisdiction based only on personal service, the foreign court was a seriously inconvenient forum for the trial of the action
- The foreign jurisdiction where judgment was rendered would not give recognition to a similar judgment rendered in this state
- The cause of action resulted in a defamation judgment obtained in a jurisdiction outside the United States, unless the court sitting in this state before which the matter is brought first determines that the defamation law applied in the foreign court’s adjudication provided at least as much protection for freedom of speech and press in that case as would be provided by the United States Constitution and the State Constitution
- The judgment was rendered in circumstances that raise substantial doubt about the integrity of the rendering court with respect to the judgment
- The specific proceeding in the foreign court leading to the judgment was not compatible with the requirements of due process of law
These are the only grounds in which to oppose the domestication of an out-of-country foreign judgment.
If the judgment debtor timely files its notice in opposition to the domestication 0f the foreign judgment, the court will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the issues addressed in the Notice of Objection, and ultimately enter an order granting or denying recognition of the foreign judgment. Fla. Stat. § 55.604(3). An order recognizing the out-of-country foreign judgment will essentially convert the foreign judgment into a Florida judgment for enforcement purposes, and enforcement proceedings may commence. If the judgment debtor fails to file a Notice of Objection within thirty days, the clerk will make note of the judgment debtor’s failure to respond by filing a Certificate of No Objection. Fla. Stat. § 55.604(4). The Judgment creditor may enforce its judgment upon the filing of the Certificate of No Objection. In all cases, upon entry of an order of domestication or filing of a Certificate of No Objection, the foreign judgment will be entitled to the full faith and credit that is given to Florida judgments.
Pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 55.606, even if the foreign court failed to obtain personal jurisdiction over the judgment debtor, which as you will recall is a mandatory ground for nonrecognition under the Act, recognition shall not be refused for lack of personal jurisdiction under the following circumstances, which pretty much tracks our own long-arm statute:
- The defendant was served personally in the foreign state
- The defendant voluntarily appeared in the proceedings, other than for the purpose of protecting property seized or threatened with seizure in the proceedings or of contesting the jurisdiction of the court over him or her
- The defendant, prior to the commencement of the proceedings, had agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court with respect to the subject matter involved
- The defendant was domiciled in the foreign state when the proceedings were instituted, or, being a body corporate, had its principal place of business, was incorporated, or had otherwise acquired corporate status, in the foreign state
- The defendant had a business office in the foreign state and the proceedings in the foreign court involved a cause of action or a claim for relief arising out of business done by the defendant through that office in the foreign state
- The defendant operated a motor vehicle or airplane in the foreign state and the proceedings involved a cause of action or claim for relief arising out of such operation
Ultimately, an order granting or denying recognition of the foreign judgment will be entered after an evidentiary hearing. You have one shot to present your case either for or against domestication, and it is crucial that you speak with an attorney well-versed in the intricacies and subtleties of Florida’s domestication acts and their interplay with the doctrine of comity.
Your attorney will guide you through the domestication procedure, gather all documentary evidence, hire experts to opine on foreign law, and vigorously represent you during the evidentiary hearing.