Sister State Judgments

August 13, 2023


The federal constitution provides that a judgment from a sister state (any state in the US) is generally entitled to “full faith and credit” in all US courts in any state.

One of my many judgment articles: I am not a lawyer, and this article is my opinion based on my experience, please consult with a lawyer if you need legal advice.

When sister state (domesticated) judgments are rendered by courts with jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; they get both collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) and res judicata (claim preclusion) protection nationwide. However, all judgments must be enforced as per the laws of the state they are domesticated into.

A sister state judgment cannot be enforced in a new state until it is properly domesticated (registered) in that new state. Most states follow the Sister State Money Judgments Act (SSMJA).

Under the SSMJA (In California, beginning with CCP (Code of Civil Procedure) 1710.10), a money judgment obtained in another state may be filed (domesticated) in a California court, to create a California version of the judgment. Once the judgment debtor is served notice of this domestication, the judgment becomes enforceable in their state.

After service of the notice of a domesticated state judgment, the judgment debtor has (e.g., 30) days to file and serve their potential motion to vacate the creditor’s judgment. However, the judgment may only be vacated upon certain specific grounds, most often these four:

1) The sister state court (that caused the judgment) lacked either subject matter, or personal jurisdiction over the defendant. This is the most common judgment debtor assertion.

2) There is an appeal pending of the judgment in the sister state.

3) The sister state court has granted a stay of enforcement of the judgment.

4) A motion to vacate the judgment is pending in the sister state.

Judgment debtors are rarely successful in preventing sister state judgments from being domesticated. However, sometimes a debtor’s clever lawyer can create doubts in a judge’s mind, and help debtors win, even when it is unfair to creditors. here here

Domestication in requires a new civi filing in the court. When it comes to non-money judgments (with the exception of child custody and visitation orders) a new civil filing is required to domesticate a judgment. Child custody and visitation orders are usually enforced under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Like sister state monetary judgments, the domestication of non-monetary judgments is hard for debtors to defeat.

Other than a child or spousal support judgment, a final money judgment from one state cannot be enforced against a debtor’s income or assets located in another state without first obtaining a judgment in the debtor’s jurisdiction. Sometimes, a debtor may attempt to shield their assets by hiding them outside the state in which they have a judgment against them.

Thanks to “long-arm” statues, sometimes without domesticating a judgment, the court can order debtors to apply their out-of-state property or income to satisfy an unpaid judgment. This can be done one of five ways:

1) Using a writ of execution to reach securities in the possession of a secured party.

2) A turnover order, for example, after a debtor examination.

3) An assignment order, for example to obtain all or part of a stream of payments due the debtor from a 3rd-party.

4) A charging order, for example against the debtor’s interest in a partnership or a limited liability company.

5) A creditor’s lawsuit, for example against a 3rd-party who possesses or controls property in which the debtor has an interest, sometimes used after fraudulent transfers.

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