Domesticating a Foreign Judgment in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law provides an efficient remedy for a judgment creditor with a judgment in one state to domesticate that judgment in Pennsylvania for enforcement against a debtor or a debtor’s assets in Pennsylvania.  The statute is 42 Pa.C.S.A. 4306 and is called the “Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act”.

The Act defines a “foreign judgment” as any judgment, decree, or order of a court of the United States or of any other court requiring payment of money which is entitled to full faith and credit in Pennsylvania.  The Act provides a simple mechanism for domesticating a foreign judgment.  To domesticate a foreign judgment, a Pennsylvania attorney can file an authenticated copy of the out-of-state judgment and the docket entries incidental thereto with the appropriate Pennsylvania county court of common pleas.  The appropriate county for domesticating a foreign judgment is the county in which the debtor resides or the county in which the debtor’s assets (e.g. real property) are located.

Pennsylvania law considers a judgment and docket entries as properly authenticated when accompanied by a certification from the transferor court’s clerk which 1) states the documents were authentic, 2) includes the clerk’s seal, 3) discloses that the clerk is in possession of the originals, and 4) signed by the clerk.  All the docket entries from the original action are not necessary.  Only those docket entries that directly affect the foreign judgment are needed.

A judgment creditor should hire a Pennsylvania attorney to file the foreign judgment.  An out of state attorney who is not licensed to practice in Pennsylvania could be subject to a claim for the unauthorized practice of law.

At the time of filing of the foreign judgment, the Act requires an affidavit setting forth the name and last known address of the judgment debtor and the judgment creditor along with a statement that the foreign judgment is valid, enforceable and unsatisfied.  The affidavit can be signed by the judgment creditor or the attorney.  Upon filing, the clerk will mail notice of the filing to the judgment debtor at the address provided.  The attorney for the judgment creditor can also mail notice to the judgment debtor.  While this is not necessary, it is good practice to do so to avoid potentially time-consuming administrative difficulties.

The judgment debtor can seek a stay of execution. The Court may require posting of security for satisfaction of the judgment.  A stay of execution may be granted when the judgment debtor shows that an appeal from the foreign judgment is pending or will be taken or that a stay of execution was granted in the original state.

The judgment debtor can also try to invalidate the foreign judgment.  Foreign judgments are presumed to be valid unless the judgment debtor can prove that the transferor court lacked jurisdiction or that there was a deprivation of due process.

While obtaining a judgment against a debtor is sometimes necessary for collecting money, a judgment does not automatically obligate the debtor to pay.  In order to collect on a judgment, it usually needs to be enforced against the judgment debtor.   A properly domesticated foreign judgment in Pennsylvania has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures and defenses as a judgment of a court in which the judgment was originally entered.  In other words, once a judgment is properly domesticated in Pennsylvania, the judgment creditor can proceed with enforcement of the money judgment as if the judgment was originally obtained in Pennsylvania. 

In Pennsylvania, enforcement of a judgment often begins with due diligence on the part of the judgment creditor and the attorney.  Collection attorneys often perform bank account searches with the assistance of an investigator.  A search of real estate records is another common enforcement step.  It is important to note that a properly filed foreign judgment will automatically attach as lien on any real property owned solely by the judgment debtor in the county in which the judgment was filed. 

When assets are discovered, enforcement of the judgment requires the filing and service of a Writ of Execution.  The Writ is issued by the Court and instructs the sheriff to take or seize property of the judgment debtor.  This can include a bank levy, personal property levy, or actions against real property.

The Martin Law Firm, P.C. routinely assists out of state lawyers, in-house counsel, paralegals, companies and individuals with the Pennsylvania foreign judgment domestication process and enforcement of the judgment.  Contact us today to discuss your case, fees for legal services, costs and the domestication process.  Call us at 215-646-3980.

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