by Mark A. Cobb
Question: An owner, a general contractor or a subcontractor owed us money so we sued them in our state (not Georgia!); the court awarded a judgment in our favor, but the defendant – debtor now resides or transacts business in Georgia. How can I enforce the judgment lien from another state in Georgia?
Short Answer: With the mobility of people, we get this question rather often. A person or an entity loses a lawsuit in one area of the the country, then moves its business operations or assets to another state to avoid the collectors. Thankfully for judgment creditors, however, generally speaking it is a relatively easy process to enforce another state’s judgment in Georgia. First, the judgment creditor must domesticate the foreign judgment in Georgia. Second, the judgment can be collected by such common post-judgment activities as a garnishment of a bank account or a wage, post-judgment interrogatories, post-judgment deposition, or foreclosure of the judgment lien. For a more detailed answer, please keep reading:
How is an Out-of-State Judgment Domesticated in Georgia?
Georgia adopted the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Act (the “UEFJ Act”); if the judgment seeking to be recognized in Georgia is from a state that has also adopted the UEFJ Act, then the process for domestication is relatively streamlined. The UEFJ Act was instituted to prevent parties from moving their business or their asset to avoid creditors, and a copy of it may be found by clicking here > >
In order to avail themselves of the UEFJ Act, a judgment creditor needs to give notice to the judgment debtor that the judgment is being domesticated in Georgia; a petition or affidavit is filed with the clerk of court in the county where the foreign judgment is to be domesticated; finally, unless there is an objection, the court will issue an order recognizing the other state’s judgment.
If the judgment hails from a state which has not adopted the UEFJ Act, then the process is a little different. The judgment creditor will need to file a lawsuit to enforce the foreign judgment which is a simplified lawsuit to help-out in situations such as this.
What are the Advantages of Domesticating a Foreign Judgment in Georgia?
“Full Faith and Credit”.
That means that the judicial system in Georgia will recognize another state’s decision equal to a decision made by a Georgia court. From a practical standpoint, this means that a domesticated foreign judgment may be enforced exactly as a Georgia judgment.
After the Foreign Judgment has been Domesticated, How Can I Enforce the Judgment?
Georgia affords judgment creditors with many useful collection techniques. First and foremost, the judgement creditor should ask the court which domesticated the out-of-state judgment to issue a Writ of Fieri Facias which is commonly referred to as a “FiFa”. The FiFa should be recorded in the county where the original judgment was domesticated, and it should be recorded in each and every county where the judgment debtor resides, transacts significant business or has any assets. The FiFa is the “judgment lien”, and it will remain of record for 7 years (it can also be renewed). The recorded judgment lien gives the world notice that money is owed to you, and it can lead to payment in full in the event that the judgment debtor tries to sell any real estate or obtain a loan. This is an economical, easy course to follow which may help you get paid.
In addition to recording the FiFa, the judgment creditor has an arsenal of techniques at its disposal which may lead to collection of the money which is owed.
Garnishments tend to be successful if a current bank account can be located or, for an individual, a current employer can be located.
PRACTICAL TIP: If your judgment is against a general contractor, subcontractor or supplier, and if you can identify its current project, then you may garnish the draws (or retainage) made to the judgment debtor.
If a creditor cannot locate a garnishable asset, then many judgment creditors should attempt some form of post-judgment discovery. They may send the debtor post-judgment interrogatories with questions that may identify a garnishment opportunity (such as “Who is your employer?”, Where do you bank?” or “Do you own any real estate?”) Similarly, a creditor may send the debtor a post-judgment request for documents to obtain pertinent financial information (e.g., a copy of their recent tax returns, bank statements, or pay-stub).
Although more expensive, post-judgment depositions are also a great way to obtain a judgment debtor’s full financial history and asset identification particularly if there is concern that the debtor may have fraudulently conveyed its assets in order to avoid its creditors. Furthermore, they place the judgement creditor face-to-face with your attorney and may more-likely result in payment of the debt or an establishment of a payment plan.
Although there is a myriad of other collection techniques, this article is intended to cover the most useful. If you have any questions about collection your judgment across state lines, please feel free to contact us.