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Georgia Judgment Enforcement
This is my opinion and a summary of what I have learned and observed. If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer (See our National Lawyer State Bar List".) because I am not a lawyer.
Because this is a summary of how to enforce a judgment in Georgia, let me start with links for more information:
http://www.lexis-nexis.com/hottopics/gacode and www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/georgia-recording-law.
(See Title 18, it covers judgment enforcement laws.)
A judgment is a final order of the court, signed by a judge or a commissioner that specifies a cash amount owed. The courts have no way to help you enforce your judgment. You must do it yourself, or get help to enforce your judgment.
Currently, the interest rate in Georgia is the Prime Rate plus three percent, compounded annually (For all judgments in 2003 or later, before that was 12% simple interest. Anyone who enforces a judgment needs to keep track of the interest accrued, credits (when the debtor pays), and debits (what you spent to enforce the judgment). Payments must be applied to interest first, then the principal owed.
Interest stops accruing on any money that partially satisfies the judgment. (See O.C.G.A. 7-4-12) That code, both before 2003 and after 2003, allows the judgment creditor to use the contractual interest rate if there is a written contract that is sued upon. That could be much higher than 12% or prime rate plus 3%.
The judgment (actually called the fieri facias) must be revived within 7 years, not "after it is seven years old". In short, it must be revived at 6 years, 11 months and 30 days, technically. I recommend revival at or before the 6 year, 6 month mark.
Georgia judgments may be enforced for seven years, after which they go "dormant". After they go dormant, you must revive them within three years (ten years total). A judgment may be renewed for another seven years, but only after it is seven years old. Then the judgment can be renewed indefinitely, if consistently renewed.
You can enforce (collect) Judgments can be enforced in many ways. The only way to enforce a judgment in GA is to use the old-school recording of a Fieri Facias (FiFA). A FiFa is the same thing as a Writ Of Execution in other states. The FiFa can be recorded with the County Recorder in a county where the debtor owns or will own real estate. If the debtor sells or refinances (and the property is not underwater) you may get paid.
In GA, when you file a garnishment (wage or bank) you are listed as Plaintiff. It is because a garnishment in GA is a new action/claim/lawsuit, it gets a new case number. The OJC's name doesn't appear anywhere.
And, when you domesticate a judgment into GA, you become the Plaintiff on anything to do with the case. When the court accepts the transfer from the original state into the court and writes the new GA judgment, you am listed as the Plaintiff. In GA, when you domesticate a foreign judgment, you need an exemplified (triple seal) copy of the original state's judgment.
You may be able to record a FiFA and get paid if a debtor is a plaintiff in a different lawsuit, or a beneficiary in a dead person's estate proceeding. Every creditor who wins a Judgment usually gets a FiFA from the awarding court. The FiFA must be recorded in each county where the debtor has assets.
If the debtor earns wages (unfortunately less likely these days) you may be able to garnish up to 25% of their income. The debtor may try to claim an exemption. Also, if there is already another garnishment in progress, yours has to wait until the previous debts are paid. Finally, there are many exemptions the debtor can claim, as defined in the Georgia Code of Civil Procedures (CCPs). Georgia code section 18-4-7 covers the discharge of employee subject to garnishment: No employer may discharge any employee by reason of the fact that his earnings have been subjected to garnishment for any one indebtedness, even though more than one summons of garnishment may be served upon such employer with respect to the indebtedness.
Wage garnishment - lasts for 179 days, garnishee must answer at least every 45 days, only attaches to wages earned by W2 employees, in order to be garnished the employee/JD earnings must be above the min. (30 times Fed. min wage or 25% of disposable income)
Regular garnishment - lasts for 30-45 days and attaches to "all property, money, wages, belonging to the Defendant". We use it for bank garnishments, to capture real estate agent's income from a broker (1099 sub-contractor "employees").
Property or Monies Within Possession or Control - all property, money or effects of the Defendant in the possession or control of the garnishee is subject to garnishment [OCGA 18-4-20(c)].
If the debtor has savings or checking bank accounts, or a safe deposit box, you may be able to garnish them to get paid. Other non-standard income streams can be attached with an assignment order.
If the debtor is a business, even a home business, you can record a Uniform Common Code (UCC) lien with the Secretary of State. If the business wants a loan, the lender may require them to pay off all UCC liens and then you could get paid. The UCC lien can make you a secured creditor if the debtor files for bankruptcy. Even that may not get you paid. Generally when a debtor goes bankrupt, you never get paid.
Some Georgia Corporate entity laws:
The Secretary of State may commence a proceeding under Code Section 14-2-1421 to dissolve a corporation administratively if:
(1) The state revenue commissioner has certified to the Secretary of State that the corporation has failed to file a license or occupation tax return and that a period of one year has expired since the last day permitted for timely filing without the filing and payment of all required license and occupation taxes and penalties by the corporation; provided, however, that dissolution proceedings shall be stayed so long as the corporation is contesting, in good faith, in any appropriate proceeding, the alleged grounds for dissolution;
(2) The corporation does not deliver its annual registration to the Secretary of State, together with all required fees and penalties, within 60 days after it is due;
(3) The corporation is without a registered agent or registered office in this state for 60 days or more;
(4) The corporation does not notify the Secretary of State within 60 days that its registered agent or registered office has been changed, that its registered agent has resigned, or that its registered office has been discontinued;
(5) The corporation pays a fee as required to be collected by the Secretary of State pursuant to the Code by a check or some other form of payment which is dishonored and the corporation or its incorporator or its agent does not submit payment for said dishonored payment within 60 days from notice of nonpayment issued by the Secretary of State; or
(6) Any notice which is required to be published by Code Section 14-2-201.1, 14-2-1006.1, 14-2-1105.1, or 14-2-1403.1 has not been published.
Post-judgment discovery can obtain information on the judgment debtor's assets or employment status. This usually requires you to have a process server personally serve the Court order directly on the debtor. This requires the debtor to appear in Court on a certain date. You must appear also, to conduct the examination. The debtor must answer "under oath" to the all questions you ask about their assets.
If the defendant does not appear, some Courts may issue an arrest warrant (bench warrant) after other legal procedures are exhausted. Note that you must pay for a bench warrant. In many counties, the Sheriff will not pick up the debtor, as they are busy with other important matters such as trying to rid their county of drugs and criminals.
It's not easy to recover costs incurred when enforcing a judgment in Georgia. Costs are payments to courts, process servers, and Sheriffs. Meals, Postage, and parking meters, are not allowed costs.
At one time Georgia post-judgment recovery laws were clear, but now they are vague. Unlike other States, in Georgia you must prepare a Bill Of Cost, a Motion and an Order, and have it served on the debtor with certified mail, pay the court $10, and claim costs within 30 days of incurring them.
If your case is moved to a different Magistrate court, you have to personally serve the debtor and pay the court the same fees as if you were starting a new lawsuit. In most cases, it's just not worth the hassle and costs of getting a Georgia court to approve your enforcement-related costs.
If you enforce your judgment, you must file a notarized "Acknowledgement Of Satisfaction of Judgment" with the Court. The law ignores the real world possibility of bounced checks and bankruptcy, and requires you to file the Satisfaction within 30 days.
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