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California Debtor’s Rights – Sister State Judgments: Enforcement Of Foreign Judgments

illustration of justice scales, gavel and law books

Suppose you live and work or own property in California, and someone has a money judgment against you in another state. In that case, you may wonder if that judgment can affect you, your earnings, and your assets in California. The short answer to the question is, yes, a judgment from another state, called a “sister state judgment,” can be enforced against you in California. While there are some legal procedures that a judgment creditor must go through to enforce a foreign judgment against you in California, it can be done. If you are concerned that a debt you owe to someone across the country might come back to affect your rights and reduce your assets in California, it’s worth your time to learn about the enforcement of foreign judgments in the Golden State.

Even though you may think you left the judgment behind you in another state, California law allows that foreign judgment to be entered in a superior court in California and have full effect on you just as any other money judgment that the court issued. Once the sister state judgment has been accepted in a California court, you are legally responsible for paying it, and the judgment creditor can use the collection tools allowed by California law to come after your earnings or assets.

A Foreign Judgment Can Impact Your Assets In California

Although it may be called a foreign judgment, another name for a sister state judgment, the law doesn’t allow a judgment from a foreign country to be used against you here. Instead, the “foreign judgment” must come from one of the other 49 states of the USA to be able to reach you in California. The law defines a “sister state judgment” as any decree, order, or judgment from a court of any state of the US, other than California, which demands a money payment. Support orders defined in the Family Code are not included in the law.

The Process Of Enforcing A Foreign Judgment

A judgment creditor with a money judgment against you from another state in the US has a few legal hoops to jump through before they can go after your property, assets, or earnings in California. First, they must apply to a California superior court to ‘domesticate’ the judgment. The application must be supported by a few crucial statements made under oath affirming that the foreign judgment:

  • Is not barred by the applicable statute of limitations
  • It has no stay on enforcement and is currently in effect in the sister state
  • Is for a set amount of money, and some part of the money remains unpaid
  • And that no action on the judgment is pending or has been entered already in California

The application also must set forth the name and last known address of the person who owes the judgment debt, if it’s an individual, or pertinent details of the corporation if the judgment applies to a corporate debtor. Finally, the application must include the name and address of the judgment creditor, and the creditor must attach an authenticated copy of the sister state judgment with the application in the superior court.

Assuming all the information is correctly and fully supplied with the application, the law states that the clerk of the court shall enter a judgment in the superior court of California that explains the amount of money remaining unpaid and the amount of interest accrued, which is calculated at the rate that applies to the judgment under the sister state’s law, and the amount of the filing fee.

At that point, the judgment is entered the same as an original judgment of the California court for the amount of the outstanding judgment plus interest and costs. Next, the judgment creditor must serve the notice of entry of judgment on the debtor in the same way as they would carry out a service of process in a California legal action and inform the debtor that they have 30 days to make a motion to vacate the judgment.

Defenses To Enforcement Of A Foreign Judgment

When the debtor receives notice of the entry of the sister state judgment, they have an opportunity to raise any defense that would be a valid defense to an action on the matter in a California court. Generally, these challenges are to the form of the judgment and the interest allowed, rather than a direct challenge to the validity of the judgment itself. After the 30-day window has closed for a motion to vacate the entry of the sister state judgment, the creditor may pursue any execution method as permitted on a judgment from California.

Collection Options For The Judgment Creditor

As with a judgment that a California court initially issued, a sister state judgment gives the judgment creditor some powerful collection options when correctly entered as a California court order. The creditor can pursue a judgment lien on real property if you own real estate anywhere in California. Like any other lien on your real property, the creditor can choose to force a sale to collect the money due on the foreign judgment that has been entered in California, or they can wait for you to sell the property and collect the money due for the judgment from the escrow of the property’s sale.

Suppose you own valuable personal property, including vehicles, artwork, jewelry, expensive home furnishings, or the like. In that case, the judgment creditor can demand an accounting in the court and force a sale of some of these items. Usually, the value of the personal items must be well more than the judgment amount, as the process of finding and selling such items is very challenging and somewhat costly to the creditor.

Suppose you are employed (but not self-employed) in California. In that case, the judgment creditor has the option of pursuing an Earnings Withholding Order (EWO) that will require your employer to deduct money from your earnings before it is paid to you and transfer the money to the county sheriff or other levying officer, who collects the funds for the creditor. A bank levy is also an option open to a judgment creditor if they know you have funds in a California bank that could satisfy the judgment.

Get Legal Counsel

If you are facing enforcement of a sister state judgment in California, you have a few options to challenge the process, but time is of the essence in the matter. Consult with an experienced debtor’s rights attorney to understand your rights. The process can be complicated, with detailed steps to follow promptly to get the best results. Reach out to the capable debtor’s rights attorneys at Fitzgerald & Campbell, APLC today by calling 844-431-3851 or visiting us online.

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