What can you do with a final judgment

May 12 18:44 2021 David Steinfeld Print This Article

A judgment does not always come from a trial, but it often does signal the end of the litigation. A final judgment issued by a court establishes that the court has determined one party to be the winner and usually entitled to some amount of money. While the judgment itself does not require payment of money it allows the holder of the judgment to use the court's power to get money or property. That power is the topic of this article.

Where does a final judgment come from A final judgment is a document issued by a judge in a civil lawsuit. In Florida judgments including the interest they bear are regulated by Chapter 55 of the Florida Statutes. A judgment can come at the end of a trial either based on the judge's own decision if it was a bench trial or based on the verdict of a jury if it was a jury trial. A judgment can also come into being at other stages of a lawsuit.

If a defendant is properly served with a lawsuit and does not respond within the time allowed,Guest Posting then the plaintiff can obtain a default and convert that into a default final judgment. A judgment can also arise by motion such as a motion for summary judgment by which a party indicates that the facts and law are so crystallized in a case that the judge need not wait for later proceedings like a trial to decide the matter. There are also other motions allowed under the Rules of Procedure that can lead to a judgment before a full trial.

A judgment can also be entered by agreement such as the result of a settlement from mediation or privately concluded. It can also be entered on an arbitration award, which award by itself is not enforceable like a judgment. Unlike some states, Florida does not allow for a consent judgment, which is a judgment by agreement without any court involvement. However, in Florida, a settlement agreement in a lawsuit can provide as a default that a judgment will be entered with little formal proceedings if one party fails to perform. How do you enforce a judgment in Florida A judgment is kind of like an I.O.U. in that it documents that one party owes the other something. But the judgment creditor or judgment holder must still collect on that obligation by executing on the judgment. Once properly recorded, judgments in Florida operate as liens on real property in the county where property is located. They also act as a lien against personal property located in the state when properly recorded with the state.

Judgment liens are a passive enforcement mechanism in that the judgment holder need not take action unless the judgment holder wishes. If a judgment lien applies against real property for example and that property is sold then the lien may have to be paid at closing in order to convey clear title. But a judgment holder can also foreclose the lien like a mortgage holder would foreclose a mortgage.

Another method of enforcing a valid judgment in Florida is by writ. The system of writs in Florida comes from old English common law. A court can issue these various writs either directly by a judge or by a judicial order to the clerk of court. A party enforcing a judgment can sometimes also obtain these writs directly from the clerk of court. Writs are enforced by the sheriff of a county. Some writs may require a bond or a cost payment. The judgment must provide the proper language to allow these writs to be issued. If it does not, then that must first be approved by a motion to the court.

A Writ of Execution is arguably the broadest writ. It is addressed in Chapter 56 of the Florida Statutes and directs the sheriff simply to execute on the judgment by taking property of the judgment debtor that is subject to execution. This action is known as a levy. Under Florida law some property is exempt from judgment. For example, a joint bank account owned by and in the names of a husband and wife is not subject to judgment execution unless the judgment is against both people. Likewise, after the changes to Florida's limited liability company laws several years ago a person's membership interest in certain kinds of LLCs was placed beyond the execution of a judgment, but those laws did allow for a different way to go after distributions against the interest.

A Writ of Garnishment is probably the most commonly recognized enforcement of a judgment. It is directed at a third party that holds property of the judgment debtor. While it can be used against both tangible and intangible property, this writ is often directed at a bank for a bank account and the Continuing Writ of Garnishment variety is often directed at the judgment debtor's employer against regular salary. Florida law at Chapter 77 provides the mechanism for issuance and enforcement of garnishment writs and allows both the garnishee and the party subject to the judgment to respond to and raise defenses to the garnishment and to even have a trial on those.

A Writ of Attachment is another writ that can be used to enforce a judgment in Florida. It is regulated by Chapter 76 in the Florida Statutes. Section 76.01 provides that any creditor may have an attachment at law against the goods and chattels, lands, and tenements of his or her debtor under the circumstances and in the manner hereinafter provided. While that allows for broad application the writ is most commonly used to obtain a specific piece of property such as a motor vehicle.

Within Florida's system of writs there are several others like the Writ of Replevin and Writ of Bodily Attachment but those are not commonly used in the enforcement of a final judgment. Chapter 78 of the Florida Statutes provides for the Writ of Replevin. The writ is itself the result of a claim for replevin in a lawsuit that is made for the recovery of a specific piece or pieces of property. When proven in the lawsuit the final judgment results in the writ that directs the sheriff to go take that property and turn it over to the plaintiff because the plaintiff established ownership and a right to that property by the lawsuit.

A Writ of Bodily Attachment is akin to what is commonly called a bench warrant but it is issued in a civil case. It can be used in connection with a final judgment but is often issued by a judge when the defendant fails or refuses to comply with a lawful court order. The Writ of Bodily Attachment instructs the sheriff to go get the person subject to the writ and bring them before the judge by force if necessary to have the person show why they failed or refused to comply with the judge's order. Can I sell my Florida judgment Absolutely. Judgments in Florida are assignable during their lifespan and can therefore be sold by the judgment creditor. The assignment should be documented properly to avoid enforcement issues. How will a judgment affect my credit or my life Whether a final judgment impacts the credit rating of the judgment debtor or the party against whom the judgment is entered depends on the rules of the credit reporting agency. But a judgment holder can notify those agencies of the judgment and the agency will likely file that against the judgment debtor's credit. Precisely how that may impact the judgment debtor's credit depends on the credit reporting agency and the judgment.

In addition to credit scores an unsatisfied civil judgment can also be used to revoke driving privileges within the state. There is a specific process by which this can be done under Florida law. Can I enforce a foreign judgment in Florida Yes. Florida law at Chapter 55 specifically provides for the enforcement of judgments obtained from other U.S. states and foreign countries through a process called domestication. A judgment from another state is usually easier to domesticate because Article IV, Section 1 of the Federal Constitution expressly provides for full faith and credit to be given by one state to judgments from another. In contrast whether a judgment from a foreign country can be domesticated in Florida depends on the international law principle of comity. Comity is the concept of whether that country also honors judgments from this country. Certain factors such as whether the issuing nation is a party to the Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments impacts the domestication process for out of country judgments.

That is not to say that every judgment is automatically enforceable in Florida which is why they must each go through the statutory domestication process. But once properly domesticated the out of state judgment or out of country judgment becomes enforceable in Florida just as if a court here had originally issued the judgment. How long does my judgment last The lifespan of a judgment issued by a Florida court is defined by Florida law as twenty years. If it is recorded and operates as a judgment lien, it must be re-recorded before its tenth anniversary to maintain whatever priority it has as a result of the original recording.

Foreign judgments domesticated in Florida may be subject to a different lifespan from the issuing jurisdiction. Therefore the best advice for dealing with foreign judgments that is those from other states or countries is to consult with your Florida counsel. How does a bankruptcy affect a judgment For bankruptcy purposes there are two kinds of judgments, dischargeable and non-dischargeable. Depending on the type of bankruptcy filed the money judgment may be wiped out or it may be reduced and paid over time if it is subject to the discharge entered by the bankruptcy court. If the bankruptcy court under its rules and laws determines that the judgment is not subject to the discharge then the bankruptcy has little impact on it and may only result in some payments against it. Non-dischargeable judgments are those based on claims of intentional misconduct like fraud, defamation, or certain hybrid claims like a seller's failure to disclose material defects in the sale of a home in Florida.

Whether a judgment that may be obtained by a trial will be subject to a bankruptcy discharge or not is something to discuss with counsel even before the lawsuit is filed. Particularly for business disputes whether the judgment will survive a bankruptcy or not is something that a business should consider in weighing the risks and benefits of filing a lawsuit. Economically it may not be beneficial for a business to incur the expense of obtaining a judgment if the judgment can or will be wiped away by a future bankruptcy. Conversely knowing that a judgment cannot be discharged by a bankruptcy may greatly aid a business in its risk assessment in deciding whether to prosecute that lawsuit.

Depending on the language contained in a jury verdict or final judgment the judgment may automatically be deemed non-dischargeable. In other cases to reach that determination there may have to be a separate trial in the bankruptcy called an adversary action or adversary proceeding. In that trial the bankruptcy judge receives limited evidence to evaluate whether the judgment should be deemed non-dischargeable. Conclusion Final judgments issued in Florida are the culmination of a lawsuit. They can come at the end of the process from a trial or beforehand through certain procedural mechanisms like default or summary judgment or from an unperformed settlement agreement. Judgments obtained elsewhere such as a court in another state or country can also be domesticated in Florida and enforced as if a court in Florida had issued the judgment.

The enforcement of a judgment in Florida can be passive or active. Passive enforcement is normally by recording a judgment lien while active enforcement generally uses a system of writs to invoke the power of the court through the sheriff. Those post-judgment writs allow for the lawful seizure of property including cars, bank accounts, and salaries but all have an embedded procedures for due process.

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David Steinfeld
David Steinfeld

Written by David Steinfeld

David Steinfeld is one of the few Board Certified business law experts in Florida. He has been licensed for almost 25 years. He is AV-Preeminent rated, ranked as one of the Best Lawyers in America by U.S. News and World Report, and consistently named a Florida Super Lawyer and one of Florida’s Legal Elite. Dave has also received Martindale’s prestigious Judicial Edition Award for high reviews by Judges, its Platinum Client Champion Award and has a 10.0-Superb rating on AVVO as well as a 10.0 rating on Justia, lawyer reviews websites.

Check out business lawyer David Steinfeld online for helpful videos and articles on Florida business law, real estate disputes, and electronic discovery solutions for your business. This article is provided for informational purposes only.

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