Pennsylvania law allows for the filing of a foreign judgment. A foreign judgment is a judgment obtained in another state that is transferred to Pennsylvania for enforcement and collection purposes. Foreign judgments are often necessary when a judgment is obtained in another state, but the defendant debtor resides in Pennsylvania or has assets in Pennsylvania.
The foreign judgment and the docket entries from the other state should be filed with the office of the clerk of any court of common pleas in Pennsylvania. When this occurs, the court treats the judgment in the same manner as a judgment obtained in any Pennsylvania Court. It also serves as a lien on any real property that the debtor owns in that county.
Once the judgment is entered, the judgment creditor has a number of remedies and procedural rights in order to satisfy the judgment. Pennsylvania law allows judgment creditors to proceed with post judgment discovery. Discovery is a legal process that allows a party to a lawsuit to obtain information about the other party or the matter itself. Judgment creditors use post judgment discovery in order to obtain information about the debtor’s income and assets. This can be accomplished with written interrogatories, a formal request for the debtor to produce documents, or through a deposition of the debtor or other third party.
Interrogatories are written questions that a debtor must answer. If the debtor is an individual, the interrogatories should require the debtor to answer questions about his or her employment, salary or wages, other income, investments, debts, etc. If the debtor is a business, the interrogatories should require the debtor to answer questions about the owners of the business, the type of business, customers, gross profits, expenses, etc. If a debtor refuses to answer the interrogatories or provides insufficient responses, a judgment creditor can file a motion with the court for a court order compelling the debtor to provide sufficient responses.
A written request for production of documents is very useful discovery tool. A judgment creditor should seek the production of wage statements, tax returns for the last 3-5 years, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, savings and checking account statements, deeds, car titles, etc. All of this information can be obtained to verify the existence of income, assets and liabilities to determine whether the debtor has the financial ability to satisfy the judgment. If the debtor refuses to provide the requested information the judgment creditor can once again request the court to compel the information through a court order.
A deposition occurs when the debtor must answer questions under oath. A deposition usually occurs at a lawyers’ office. The lawyer for the judgment creditor will ask the debtor any and all questions that the lawyer believes are necessary in order to identify assets and understand the debtor’s complete financial status. A court reporter will transcribe all of the debtor’s testimony.
Attorneys who routinely handle collection matters will have investigators who can search for assets that can be used to satisfy a judgment. If the investigator locates a bank account owned by the debtor, for example, the attorney can add the bank to the lawsuit and freeze the account. This can occur without the debtor’s knowledge. Once the account is frozen, the debtor will be given notice and then a short time thereafter, the judgment creditor can take the funds in the account, subject to some exemptions. This is perhaps the easiest and quickest way to obtain money to satisfy a judgment in whole or in part.
When a judgment creditor utilizes these methods, one of two things may happen. The first is that assets are located and the judgment creditor can legally seize the assets in order to satisfy the judgment. The second is that the debtor will often realize that he cannot run and hide from the judgment creditor. The debtor may decide that it is better to voluntarily pay the judgment instead of wondering what is going to happen next. The debtor may not have the money to satisfy the judgment, so the debtor may work out a payment plan with the judgment creditor in exchange for the judgment creditor to seize its collection efforts. In either event, the judgment creditor may eventually get paid.