Where a foreign judgment is based on substantive law that is inconsistent with Tennessee law, will a Tennessee court deny domestication of that judgment in Tennessee? The short answer is “no.” A Tennessee court will only look at whether the judgment is valid in the foreign state and will not consider substantive defenses based on Tennessee law.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals considered this exact issue a few years ago. In that case, the Court was faced with a foreign judgment based on a “confession of judgment” which, under Tennessee law, aren’t valid and are unenforceable. But, because confessions of judgment are valid in the other state, the Court found that a foreign judgment based on a “confession of judgment” was enforceable in Tennessee under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgements Act.
Last week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals that reaffirmed that outcome, in Mantis Funding LLC v. Buy Wholesale Inc., No. M202200204COAR3CV, 2022 WL 17986892, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 29, 2022).
In Mantis, the judgment creditor sought to enforce a New York judgment in Davidson County Circuit Court. The judgment debtor objected, but Judge Brothers looked only to whether the New York court was willing to set aside or entertain a challenge to the validity of the underlying judgment. When the New York court denied the debtor’s motion to vacate the judgment, the Tennessee decision was easy: “the New York judgment is entitled to full faith and credit in Tennessee pursuant to the Constitution of the United States of America.” Id. at *1.
The Court of Appeals agreed. Sure, confessions of judgment are void under Tennessee law pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 25-2-101, but “full faith and credit” doesn’t require that the sister state’s judgment be consistent with Tennessee law. Instead, assuming that there are no service or procedural issues, the Tennessee Court will consider only whether the judgment debtor has challenged the foreign judgment and/or the substantive legal issues in the foreign jurisdiction. If not, “the decision is res judicata… [and o]nce decided, these issues cannot be raised in another, later case seeking to enroll the foreign judgment.” Id. at *2.
This is a fairly settled issue in judgment enforcement, but, because a judgment debtor has such limited bases to challenge a foreign judgment, the debtor will nevertheless “throw the kitchen sink” at the creditor. This new opinion reaffirms that such challenges should be denied.