New Opinion Analyzes Common Defenses to Domestication of Foreign Judgments in Tennessee

A good rule of thumb in Tennessee is that a valid foreign judgment will be enforceable here, provided the plaintiffs comply with the procedural requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated § 26-6-101, et seq.

A new Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion, in Bancorpsouth Bank v. David J. Johnson, et. al. (July 16, 2013), examined both the general law, as well as the potential defenses to domestication. This is a good case to know, since it reviews all aspects of the foreign judgment enrollment process.

First, it presents the three “standard” defenses to domestication:

a forum state may decline to accord full faith and credit to the judgment or public act of another state if it is (1) void due to a lack of personal or subject matter jurisdiction, (2) based upon fraud, or (3) “where enforcement of the judgment would violate the public policy of the forum state.” …  Tennessee courts have recognized and adopted all three of these exceptions. … (citations omitted)

These defenses aren’t easy to establish, and the Court notes  “a party who seeks to show that a foreign judgment should not be enforced in Tennessee must meet a ‘stern and heavy‘ burden.”

Most attacks on a foreign judgment are under Defense No. 1 (that the judgment is void); this new case is interesting in that is that the Court provides a good analysis of Defense Nos. 2 and 3 (which no other case that I’ve seen has done).

Defense No. 2, Fraud:  “[T]o deny full faith and credit on the basis of fraud, there must be allegations of extrinsic fraud, that is, fraud that is collateral to questions which were either determined or which could have been determined in the underlying action. Extrinsic fraud is contrasted with intrinsic fraud, which pertains to an issue involved in the underlying action or where the acts allegedly constituting fraud were or could have been litigated…”

“‘[E]xtrinsic fraud ‘consists of conduct that is extrinsic or collateral to the issues examined and determined in the action,’. . . while intrinsic fraud is fraud within the subject matter of the litigation, such as forged  documents produced at trial or perjury by a witness.”

An example of extrinsic fraud is a party lying to the other party about the court date or committing some fraud regarding the litigation (something beyond the allegations of the lawsuit). Intrinsic fraud would be some fraud related to or contained in the allegations of the lawsuit, such as a fraudulent signature on the note at issue.

Defense No. 3, Public Policy:  “Under the public-policy exception to full faith and credit, “Tennessee courts are not obligated to give full faith and credit to any judgment of a state which we hold to be violative of Tennessee’s public policy or the Federal Constitution.”

This is rare, however: “The principle of giving full faith and credit to the judgments of sister states will “almost invariably” outweigh the interest of an individual state; the public-policy exception to full faith and credit is applied only on ‘extremely rare occasions.'”

While the Court doesn’t provide examples, the Defendants’ argument is illustrative. Here, they argued that the foreclosure that resulted in the deficiency balance at issue in the lawsuit was improper, and it was an issue that Tennessee has a defense for, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-118.

The Court saw this as an improper attempt to re-litigate potential defenses under the underlying judgment, not some public policy that rendered the out-of-state judgment unenforceable.

Most cases cite the three major defenses, and this new opinion is significant because it provides helpful analysis of what constitutes those defenses.

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