Recent Florida Supreme Court case law update – Hess v. Patrick

Great news for Creditors! Up to 20 years to enforce a domesticated foreign judgment

Over 30 years ago, Florida enacted the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (FEFJA) providing a simplified procedure for domesticating foreign judgments.  In other words, FEFJA allows a judgment from any other US state or the US federal government to be recognized and enforced as if it were a Florida judgment.  Until recently, Florida creditors remained uncertain as to one crucial aspect of this important mechanism – what is the “expiration date” of a domesticated foreign judgment?

To understand the implications of this issue, we must look to the applicable statute of limitations.  Under Florida law, the expiration date for a judgment or decree issued by a Florida court is 20 years.  Fla. Stat. 95.11(1).  Contrarily, a judgment or decree of any court of the United States, any other state or territory in the United States, or a foreign country, expires after only five years.  Fla. Stat. 95.11(2).  Therefore, the question as to which of these time limitations apply to a domesticated foreign judgment clearly bears far-reaching consequences.

Florida appellate courts have addressed the above issue in several cases and have reached conflicting conclusions.  While the Fourth and Fifth District Courts of Appeals in New York State Commissioner of Taxation & Finance v. Friona, 902 So.2d 864 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) and Haigh v. Planning Board, 940 So.2d 1230 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) found that the 20-year limitations period contained in Section 95.11(1) does not apply to the enforcement of a domesticated foreign judgment under FEFJA, the Second District Court of Appeals concluded the opposite in Hess v. Patrick, 164 So.3d 19 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015).

To resolve the conflict, the Florida Supreme Court granted review of Hess v. Patrick, and subsequently affirmed the appellate decision.  Specifically, the Court held that once a judgment is domesticated under FEFJA, it is treated as a Florida judgment, and thus subject to the 20-year limitations period contained in Section 95.11(1).  The creditors in this case, the Hesses, obtained a judgment against Mr. Patrick from a federal district court in Arizona in 2003 and registered same in Florida under FEFJA in 2006.  Because the Hesses failed to renew the judgment before the expiration of Arizona’s five-year statute of limitations, the judgment became unenforceable in Arizona in 2008.  When the Hesses attempted to enforce the judgment in Florida, Mr. Patrick brought suit and successfully argued that the Arizona judgment was not enforceable in either Arizona or Florida because Arizona’s five-year statute of limitations controlled even after the judgment’s domestication under FEFJA.  On appeal, the 2d DCA reversed.

The Florida Supreme Court carefully analyzed the intent of the Legislature and provided two main reasons for affirming the appellate decision.  Firstly, FEFJA does not contain its own statute of limitations, and therefore Florida’s general statutory time limitation contained in Section 95.11 applies.  Secondly, the 20-year period for Florida judgments under Section 95.11(1) applies because once a foreign judgment is recorded under FEFJA it is treated as a Florida judgment.  This conclusion is buttressed by the Court’s earlier analogous decision dealing with domesticated judgments under the Uniform Foreign Money Judgment Recognition Act.

The above decision may significantly affect your rights, regardless of whether you are a creditor or a debtor.  If you seek assistance in enforcing or defending against a foreign judgment, please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are experienced, ready and willing to help.