A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Florida recognizes that judgment creditors seeking to enforce a judgment in Florida under the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (FEFJA) are not bound by the applicable statute of limitations from the original rendering jurisdiction. Rather, on February 16, 2017, the Supreme Court held that the 20-year statute of limitations, found in § 95.11(1), Florida Statutes, applies to the enforcement of a foreign judgment once it is recorded under the FEFJA.
Florida enacted the FEFJA in 1984 to create a simplified procedure for domesticating foreign judgments. Under the FEFJA, Florida courts are to give an out-of-state foreign judgment full faith and credit, and, once recognized, treat the judgment as if it were entered by a circuit or county court in Florida.
Richard Hess, Meredith Hess, and Lucre, Inc. (collectively, the "Hesses"), obtained a judgment against John T. Patrick ("Patrick") from a federal district court in Arizona in December 2003. On April 26, 2006, the Hesses registered the judgment in Florida under the FEFJA. The Arizona judgment was subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Thus, the judgment became unenforceable in Arizona when the Hesses failed to renew the judgment by 2008. However, on September 12, 2012, the Hesses obtained a writ of execution in Florida.
Patrick filed a motion to quash the writ in Florida. The trial court held that the judgment was unenforceable in Arizona or Florida because the Arizona five-year statute of limitations controlled. The court quashed the writ and the Hesses appealed. The Florida Second District Court of Appeal reversed, and held that Florida's 20-year statute of limitations applied once the Hesses domesticated the judgment under the FEFJA. Patrick sought review on the grounds that the Second District's decision conflicted with cases from the Fifth District and the Fourth District (Haigh v. Planning Board, 940 So. 2d 1230 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006); New York State Commissioner of Taxation & Finance v. Friona, 902 So. 2d 864 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005)).
The Florida Supreme Court's Analysis
In Patrick v. Hess, 2017 WL 632259 (Fla. Feb. 16, 2017), the Florida Supreme Court sided with the Second District's decision. In a per curiam opinion, the Court based its analysis on a statutory interpretation of the FEFJA. The FEFJA does not contain its own statute of limitations. Patrick argued that language in the FEFJA indicating the act did not alter the limitation period applicable for the enforcement of foreign judgments meant that the limitations period of the state where the judgment was originally rendered applied. The Court disagreed, and found that the language Patrick relied on was intended to limit the application of Florida's five-year statute of limitations, which applies when a foreign judgment creditor brings a new action to enforce the judgment, rather than use the FEFJA. The Court found that Florida's five-year statute of limitations for the enforcement of a foreign judgment was also inapplicable because a judgment recorded under the FEFJA is treated like a Florida judgment and is no longer foreign.
The Court concluded that the Florida Legislature intended to apply the 20-year statute of limitations in § 95.11(1) to the enforcement of foreign judgments once they are recorded under the FEFJA. Section 95.11(1) states that "[a]n action on a judgment or decree of a court of record in this state" shall be commenced within 20 years. The Court reasoned that since a foreign judgment recorded under the FEFJA shall have the same effect as a domestic judgment, the 20-year statute of limitations would apply to both. Thus, the Court approved the Second District's decision, and disapproved of the conflicting decisions from the Fourth and Fifth Districts.
Under Patrick, a judgment creditor from any jurisdiction who utilizes the FEFJA has the same time to enforce their judgment as a Florida judgment creditor: 20 years. Notably, a judgment creditor who seeks to enforce a judgment by filing a new action, rather than perfecting their judgment under the FEFJA, will be bound by Florida's applicable five-year statute of limitations.
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