How can I enforce a judgment against a judgment debtor in another state?

While the actual methodology for issuing a judgment to a judgment debtor differs from state to state, the mechanics are typically similar. Once a money judgment has been perfected by the issuing court, the judgment creditor then tries to get the judgment debtor to voluntarily pay the judgment. Failing to obtain the cooperation of the judgment debtor, the judgment creditor then determines what property is owned by the judgment debtor and where that property is located. If the property of the judgment debtor is located in the state that issued the judgment, the judgment creditor can then proceed with enforcement. However, when the property of the judgment debtor is located in another state, the judgment creditor may need a sister-state judgment issued by a court in the state in which the property of the judgment debtor is located.

The United States Constitution, under Article IV, section 1 provides that full faith and credit must be given in each state to the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state. Thus, a judgment issued by one state court must be given full faith and credit by the foreign or sister-state court. Although full faith and credit must be provided to judgments of another state, enforcement actions in the sister-state often requires acts to be taken by authorities in the sister-state (such as Marshals or Sheriffs) who will only follow an order of a court of their home state. For example, a judgment is obtained against a judgment debtor who has a bank account in California; to execute a levy upon the California bank account, the judgment creditor registers a Texas judgment as a California sister-state judgment, obtains a Writ of Execution directing a County Marshal in California to enforce the judgment and the judgment creditor then instructs the County Marshal to perform the bank levy at the bank where the judgment debtor has his/her money. The sister-state judgment is necessary since the Texas court does not have the authority to direct the actions of the County Marshal in California.

To obtain entry of a sister-state judgment, the judgment creditor applies to a court in the state in which the judgment debtor's property is located. Some courts have a particular form which must be used by the judgment creditor and there is typically a requirement that the application for entry of the sister-state judgment be filed in a particular court (i.e. - applications for entry of a sister-state judgment must be made in a Superior Court and not in a Small Claims or Municipal Court). In addition to the application, an authenticated or certified copy of the judgment, issued by the court that originally issued the judgment, must be attached.

After filing the application, the judgment creditor must give the judgment debtor notice of the filing. This enables the judgment debtor to raise certain bars to the issuance of the sister-state judgment, such as defects in the issuance of the judgment or the original judgment is not final and unconditional. If the judgment debtor does nothing, typically the sister-state judgment is issued and then the judgment creditor can pursue all available remedies for enforcement of the judgment in the sister-state.