Enforcement of Foreign Judgments

The enforcement of foreign judgments is frequently regulated by bilateral treaty or multilateral international convention.  Enforcement of foreign judgments involves the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments between states.  Today, the private citizens enjoy much more right to travel more freely between states.  There is tremendous development of the internet and e-commerce in an increasingly globalised set of market.  This means that individuals routinely buy goods, incur debts and suffer loss and injury across state borders.  For consumer groups, human rights advocates, intellectual property rights holders, and multinational corporations, the continuing reliance on a fragmented system of territorial boundaries for establishing jurisdiction is presenting a new range of problems that can only be resolved by harmonizing laws and standardizing remedies.

There are various methods for enforcement of foreign judgments in the U.S.  If the time to appeal in the court of origin has lapsed, and the judgment has become final, the holder of a foreign judgment, decree or order may file suit before a competent court in the U.S. which will determine whether to give effect to the foreign judgment.

Arbitration awards enjoy the protection of special treaties.  The U.S. is a signatory to international conventions regulating the enforcement of arbitration awards, viz, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration.  Ratified treaties in the U.S. are considered “supreme law of the land”.

A judgment rendered in a “sister” state or a territory of the U.S. is also referred to a “foreign judgment”.  In the U.S., 47 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have adopted the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UFMJR Act), which requires the states and the territories to give effect to the judgments of other states and territories, if an exemplified copy of the foreign judgment is registered with the clerk of a court of competent jurisdiction.  California adopted the UFMJR Act in 1967.  In New York, a claimant may file a motion in lieu of complaint based on the foreign judgment, properly authenticated, and served upon the adversary in advance.

However, the sates of Indiana, Massachusetts and Vermont have not adopted the Act.  When seeking to enforce a judgment in or from a state that has not adopted the Uniform Act, the holder of the judgment files a suit known as a “domestication” action.  Since the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. constitution requires that states honor the judgments of other states, the domestication of a judgment from another state is generally a formality, even in the absence of the expedited procedure under the UEFJA.

There are however certain cases wherein a state may not enforce a foreign judgment.  These include cases wherein-

  • The judgment was rendered in the absence of 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;
  • The defendant did not receive notice of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend;
  • The judgment was obtained by fraud;
  • The judgment is repugnant to the public policy of the state where enforcement is sought;
  • The judgment conflicts with another final and conclusive judgment;
  • The proceeding in the foreign court was contrary to an agreement between the parties under which the dispute was to be settled;
  • In the case of jurisdiction based only on personal service, the foreign court was an inconvenient forum for the trial; or
  • The judgment seeks to enforce the revenue and taxation laws of a foreign jurisdiction.

Inside Enforcement of Foreign Judgments