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Enforcing a Judgment from a State other than Tennessee in Tennessee

I receive calls frequently from companies and individuals who have obtained a judgment from a court in a state other than Tennessee against someone who lives in Tennessee or someone or some business which owns property in Tennessee or has operations in Tennessee.  If you are one of those companies or individuals who have a judgment from another state against someone who lives in Tennessee or some company which has assets or real estate in Tennessee, here is the good news:  In all likelihood, that judgment can be enforced in Tennessee.

Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act.  That Act essentially codifies the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution which requires the states to give full faith and credit to the judgments and decrees of sister states.

The Act requires Tennessee courts to presume that a judgment issued by a state other than Tennessee is valid.  Even better, once a foreign judgment is “enrolled” by a Tennessee court, you can use all of the procedures to collect it that you could if it was a judgment which originally came from a Tennessee court. 

  1. The Procedure for Enrolling a Foreign Judgment

So, how do you enroll a foreign judgment in Tennessee? It is easy, and the procedure is outlined in Rule 3A of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.  To enroll a foreign judgment, you have to have an “authenticated” copy of the judgment.  It is easy to obtain certified copies of a judgment from another state.  Certified copies meet the authentication requirement.

When enrolling or domesticating (as it is sometimes called) a foreign judgment, we prepare a short petition and attach the necessary documents including a certified copy of the judgment we are seeking to enforce.  When you file the petition, the clerk of the Tennessee court in which you file it will assign it a docket number just like any other case, and will issue a summons to the judgment debtor (the person against whom you have the judgment).  That summons must be served according to Tennessee law.

If the judgment debtor does not file a response within thirty (30) days of being served, the clerk must enroll the judgment.  Once the judgment is enrolled, it is just like a Tennessee judgment — you can use it to issue a wage garnishment, or bank account garnishment, or to attach personal or real property.  You can use it to take a deposition of the judgment debtor to find out where his, her or its assets might be.  You can make the deposition subpoena a duces tecum subpoena meaning that you can require the judgment debtor to bring documents to the deposition like pay records, tax returns, financial statements and bank account statements.

  1. Defenses to Enrolling a Foreign Judgment

When might a Tennessee court not enforce a judgment under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act? If the state which issued the judgment did not have personal jurisdiction over the judgment debtor (the defendant) when the judgment was issued, then a Tennessee court will not enforce the judgment.

When determining whether the state which entered the judgment had personal jurisdiction over the judgment debtor, a Tennessee court must apply the law of the state where the judgment was entered.  For example, if someone seeks to enforce a foreign judgment from California in Tennessee and the judgment debtor claims that the California court did not have jurisdiction over him, a Tennessee court must apply California law in determining whether the California court did or did not have personal jurisdiction.

If you have an out of state judgment, you will need to hire a Tennessee commercial collection law firm to assist you in enrolling and enforcing the judgment.  While enrolling and enforcing a foreign judgment is not rocket science, you still need local counsel to assist.  Experienced Tennessee collection lawyers will have the ability to serve a judgment debtor living in Tennessee and to follow up with collection procedures once the judgment is enrolled.