Domestication of Sister State Judgments in New York

We are frequently contacted by lawyers in other states and asked to help “domesticate” and enforce judgments in New York. We sometimes retain counsel in other states to enforce our New York judgments.

Why is “domestication” of judgments necessary?

Because the United States consists of 50 separate states, each of which has its own government, laws, and judicial system. The United States of America—our federal government—has its own judicial system and laws too. Complex? Absolutely, but good for the legal business.

Because each state is separate and maintains its sovereignty, a judgment of a court in one state is not enforceable in another unless further action is taken. Aid can be found in the United States Constitution, which contains what is known as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause.” Article IV, § 1. It commands that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

By virtue of this critical clause, central to the concept that the states have joined together as one nation, each state is required to recognize as valid a judgment entered by a court in any other state, with few exceptions. The main one for the purposes of civil litigation is where the court that entered the judgment lacked jurisdiction. Accordingly, a court asked to validate and enforce another state’s judgment may decline to do so if it finds that the court entering the judgment, for whatever reason, lacked jurisdiction. The court asked to enforce the judgment may not, however, review or reconsider the case on the merits.

Those are the basic concepts. But what is the process? In most cases, it is streamlined by virtue of the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, in force in nearly every state, including New York, whose slightly amended version of this uniform law is codified in CPLR Article 54. Note that the term “Foreign” as used in the Act refers to judgments entered in other states, not in foreign countries. The Act allows the party who won the case (the judgment creditor) to register the judgment in another state without the need to file a court case.

CPLR 5402 provides that a copy of any sister state judgment, properly authenticated,1 “may be filed within ninety days of the date of authentication in the office of any county clerk of the state.” The statute further provides that the judgment creditor must file with the judgment “an affidavit stating that the judgment was not obtained by default in appearance or by confession of judgment, that it is unsatisfied in whole or in part, the amount remaining unpaid, and that its enforcement has not been stayed, and setting forth the name and last known address of the judgment debtor.” A judgment so filed is entitled to the same force and effect as a judgment entered by a New York Supreme court; e.g., the Clerk will docket it as a judgment lien on any real property interest of the judgment debtor located in that county.

Note: the uniform act allows any judgment to be registered in another state; New York does not. Default judgments (default by no participation in the lawsuit whatsoever by the defendant) and judgments entered by confession may not be domesticated in New York pursuant to CPLR Article 54. Rather, an action must be filed to domesticate default judgments or judgments entered by confession. Consent judgments are different from judgments entered by confession and thus may be registered under the Act. Such an action can and should be filed on an expedited basis as a motion for summary judgment in lieu of complaint under CPLR 3213. However, the same substantive rules, based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause, still apply, e.g., the court cannot consider the merits of the case but can review any jurisdictional challenge raised.

Within 30 days of filing the judgment, the judgment creditor is required to send “notice of the filing” to the judgment debtor with a copy of the judgment, and to file proof of service. The judgment may be enforced immediately, but any proceeds from an execution shall not be distributed to the judgment creditor before the 30 days from the filing of the proof of service.

Sister state judgments may be filed in New York under the Act even if an appeal or other litigation is still pending. In other words, the case does not have to be final. The judgment debtor may seek a stay of enforcement in New York, CPLR 5404, upon proof that the debtor has furnished security as required under the laws of the state where the judgment was rendered. A New York court also has discretion to grant a stay under New York law, provided proper security under New York law is provided.

There you have it, the basics of the domestication of judgments. Not that complex after all.

1 The authentication required is known as an “exemplified” judgment, also known as “triple certified,” done pursuant to federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 1739.

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