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Enforcement Of Foreign Judgments Part I

Florida has long been derogatorily referred to as a “debtor’s haven” because of the many exemptions afforded debtors from the claims of creditors. The most notable exemption, of course, is the “homestead exemption” contained in Florida’s Constitution, Fla. Const. art. X, § 4.  There are, however, several Rules of Procedure and Florida statutes that provide the necessary tools for a diligent creditor to recover his judgment. This post is one of many that I will write over the next few months discussing these rules and statutes from both a creditor and debtor perspective. As a trial lawyer the issue of “collection” interests me because after going to trial and obtaining a judgment on behalf of my client my work is only half-done. If there is no insurance coverage or other readily-available assets that the debtor is willing to  put up to satisfy the judgment, I now have to take steps to collect on the judgment.

Today’s post concerns the procedure for perfecting a “foreign” judgment against the debtor’s real property (i.e., real estate) in Florida under the “Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act,” Florida Statutes §§55.501-55.509 (FEFJA). The word “foreign” as used in the FEFJA means a judgment obtained by a creditor in any State in the country other than Florida. It does not mean a judgment obtained in a foreign country. To aid a creditor with a judgment from a foreign country one looks to the “Uniform Foreign Money Judgment Recognition Act” (UFMJRA) contained in sections 55.601-55.609.

Before enactment of the FEFJA a creditor with an out-of-state judgment had to file a separate lawsuit to “domesticate” the judgment and then record the judgment as a Florida judgment in order to create a valid lien on the debtor’s real property. See e.g., Nat’l Equip. Rental, Ltd. v. Coolidge Bank & Trust Co., 348 So.2d 1236, 1238 (Fla. 2d DCA 1977). The process of perfecting a foreign judgment is now streamlined under the FEFJA in that the creditor need only record a certified copy of the judgment with the clerk of the circuit court in the Florida county where the debtor owns real property, along with an affidavit with the names and last known post office addresses of both the judgment debtor and the judgment creditor, and if known, the last four digits of the social security number or tax identification number of the judgment debtor. F.S. 55.505(1).

Once a certified copy is recorded the foreign judgment has the same status as a Florida judgment. F.S. 55.503. That is, it acts as a lien on the debtor’s real property for a period of 10 years (for judgments recorded on or after July 1, 1994) with a right to re-record the lien before the expiration of the 10-year period. See F.S. 55.10 (1) & (2). But no judgment can be a lien upon real (or personal property) in Florida after the expiration of 20 years from the date of entry of the judgment. F.S. 55.081. Note that if the State where the creditor obtained the judgment calls for a shorter period of time for the life of the judgment, that period will supersede Florida’s 20-year limitations period. See e.g., N.Y. Dep’t of Taxation v. Patafio, Jr.,829 So.2d 314 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002). [CAVEAT:  SEE UPDATED NOTE BELOW]. Note also that the judgment is not extinguished just because you might fail to re-record it after the first 10-year period. You may re-record but the priority of the judgment, vis-à-vis other judgments that might have been entered against the debtor, is lost. As one court aptly put it, “Like a child that wanders out of a queue, the newly rerecorded judgment lien [loses] its place and must go to the back and stand behind all previously recorded judgment liens.” Franklin Fin., Inc. v. White, 932 So. 2d 434, 437 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

Under the FEFJA a judgment debtor may obtain a stay of enforcement of the foreign judgment and a judgment lien within 30 days after the date the foreign judgment is recorded by (1) filing an action contesting either the jurisdiction of the court that entered the foreign judgment or the validity of that judgment, and (2) recording a lis pendens directed toward the foreign judgment. F.S. 55.509(1).  If this is done the judgment creditor is immediately stopped from initiating a foreclosure of the judgment lien. SCG Travel, Inc. v. Westminster Fin. Corp., 583 So.2d 723, 726 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991); However, the debtor must post a bond to obtain a stay of enforcement of the foreign judgment pending the outcome of his lawsuit contesting the judgment. id.

UPDATE:  The Patafio case cited above is no longer good law. On February 16, 2017 the Florida Supreme Court in Patrick v. Hess affirmed the Second District Court of Appeal in holding that Florida’s 20-year statute of limitations found in section 95.11(1), Florida Statutes, is applicable to enforcement of a foreign judgment after it is recorded in Florida. The Supreme Court rejected Patrick’s argument that the Hess’ judgment was unenforceable because the judgment – which was originally obtained in the State of Arizona which has a 5-year statute of limitations on the enforceability judgments – had expired. Notably, the Hesses domesticated their judgment in Florida before the judgment expired in Arizona. 

Now, based on Patrick v. Hess, any foreign judgment that gets domesticated in Florida is enforceable for 20 years from the date it was first obtained regardless of the statute of limitations in the foreign jurisdiction. 

I want to thank those below who commented before Patrick v. Hess was decided, and in particular Elisa Worthington, who mentions the Second DCA decision which was affirmed by the court in Patrick. 
16 Comments
Jim Williamslink1/7/2015 04:41:25

You didn’t include the fact that the statute of limitations is applicable under Florida DCA rulings. Say a judgment is entered in 05/1990 (outside of Florida) and is good for ten (10) years and furthermore, then renewed in that forum (outside of Florida) for another 10 years – the sum total of twenty years has passed since the initial filing of a judgment (not considering any tolling of time). There is considerable debate regarding the domestication of such a judgment in the State of Florida being time barred however, pursuant to Friona v NY State Dept of Taxation (902 So 2d 864)(2005) – however, once domesticated – a judgment is only good for twenty (20) years or the length of the effective judgment is valid in the issuing forum or WHICH EVER IS LESS – therefore, any domesticated judgment that ages greater than twenty (20) years is not enforceable in Florida.

ReplyElisa Worthington4/15/2015 23:28:57

For the latest Florida appellate decision on the statute of limitations issue, see HESS v. PATRICK, Case No. 2D13-3355, decided April 1, 2015. The holding of that case is that a judgment validly registered under FEFJA is enforceable in Florida for 20 years, regardless of the statute of limitations in the rendering jurisdiction.

ReplyElizabeth Wisuri6/17/2015 09:32:40

Is a judgment validly registered under FEFJA, enforceable in Florida for 20 years, from the date of the judgment in the home state (1998) or the date when the foreign judgment was filed (2007)? ie is the judgement valid until 2018 or until 2027?

ReplyElisa Worthington8/14/2015 03:56:48

Elizabeth, the judgment is good for 20 years, measured from the date the judgment was entered in its home state. A judgment entered in its home state in 1998, once it is validly registered under FEFJA, is enforceable in Florida until 2018.

ReplyElizabeth Wisuri8/18/2015 02:43:05

Replymark jacksonlink9/24/2015 18:13:20

Once a certified copy of a foreign judgment is domesticated in Florida, does the new Florida judgment need to be rerecorded as a certified judgment to serve as a real property judgment lien?

ReplyElisa Worthington9/24/2015 19:25:05

No. Once the foreign judgment is recorded properly under FEFJA, and the time period for the debtor’s objection is past, the recorded foreign judgment operates as a lien against real properly exactly as if it had been entered by a Florida court on the date it was entered in the original jurisidiction.

ReplyElizabeth Wisuri9/25/2015 08:34:40

Please leave me on email list

ReplySave3/1/2016 08:50:38

Is it wise to file a Lis pendant on a homestead property if you are an unsecured creditor? What if they are in fact Homestead you just clouded their title.

Replyvee schullerlink5/13/2016 18:02:09

Nevada require that you renew your judgment every six years. What happens when your judgment is domesticated in Florida within the five years and the Nevada judgment was not renewed within the required six years to maintain its judgment in both states?
Does it mean that the judgment is no good in both states? Or do Florida still have the right to collect on the Nevada judgment.
Thanking you in advance for your response.

Replyvee schullerlink5/13/2016 18:02:26

Nevada require that you renew your judgment every six years. What happens when your judgment is domesticated in Florida within the five years and the Nevada judgment was not renewed within the required six years to maintain its judgment in both states?
Does it mean that the judgment is no good in both states? Or do Florida still have the right to collect on the Nevada judgment.
Thanking you in advance for your response.

Replyvee schullerlink5/13/2016 18:04:04

Nevada require that you renew your judgment every six years. What happens when your judgment is domesticated in Florida within the five years and the Nevada judgment was not renewed within the required six years to maintain its judgment in both states?
Does it mean that the judgment is no good in both states? Or do Florida still have the right to collect on the Nevada judgment.
Thanking you in advance for your response.

Replyvee schullerlink5/13/2016 18:04:31

Nevada require that you renew your judgment every six years. What happens when your judgment is domesticated in Florida within the five years and the Nevada judgment was not renewed within the required six years to maintain its judgment in both states?
Does it mean that the judgment is no good in both states? Or do Florida still have the right to collect on the Nevada judgment.
Thanking you in advance for your response.

ReplyVeronica Schuller link7/7/2016 13:50:34

Please reply to my May question
Thanks

ReplyVeronica Schuller link7/7/2016 13:50:51

Please reply to my May question
Thanks

Replyvee schullerlink5/13/2016 18:04:58

Nevada require that you renew your judgment every six years. What happens when your judgment is domesticated in Florida within the five years and the Nevada judgment was not renewed within the required six years to maintain its judgment in both states?
Does it mean that the judgment is no good in both states? Or do Florida still have the right to collect on the Nevada judgment.
Thanking you in advance for your response.