New Tennessee Law Allows Judgments from Foreign Countries to be Enforced in State

A few years ago, I asked the question “How ‘Foreign’ can a foreign judgment be and still be entitled to domestication?

In that post, I considered whether a a truly foreign judgment, i.e. one entered by a different country, could be domesticated and enforced in a state court, whether under state law (i.e. the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Act) or under federal law. In the end, I thought it would, citing the Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act, a federal statute that can be found at 13 U.L.A. 261.

To my surprise, I just discovered that the Tennessee Legislature passed a brand new set of statutes on this issue, effective on July 1, 2019.

Found at Tenn. Code Ann § 26-6-201, et. seq., these statutes are titled the “Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act.” Per Tenn. Code Ann § 26-6-202 and -203, this Act expressly applies to judgment issued in a court of a foreign country that “[g]rants or denies recovery of a sum of money” and is “final, conclusive, and enforceable.” Interestingly, the Act doesn’t apply to a foreign judgment for taxes or fines/penalties.

Nothing beats actually reading the statutes, so I’ll just recap some highlights.

Be sure to read Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-204, which recites the various standards for recognition. Most importantly, check out subpart (b), which provides examples of matters in which a Tennessee court “may not” recognize the foreign judgment (where the court lacks “impartial tribunals or procedures”; no personal jurisdiction; no subject matter jurisdiction). Also, see subpart (c), which provides the examples for when a Tennessee “need not” recognize the foreign judgment (insufficient notice; fraud; repugnant policy; inconvenient forum; conflicting venue provisions).

Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-205(a) provides some examples of where a Tennessee court can pretty easily find personal jurisdiction (i.e. the defendant was actually served in that country; made a voluntary appearance in the proceeding; a car accident in that country).

Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-204(c), “[a] party resisting recognition of a foreign-country judgment has the burden of establishing that a ground for nonrecognition stated in subsection (b) or (c) exists.”

Some quick thoughts:

  • With all the legislative fights in Tennessee over this past summer, I’m surprised that there was no mention of this new Act;
  • This is a fairly obscure issue, and I’m honestly impressed that Tennessee has such a fair process for recognition of foreign judgments;
  • I think the statutory text of the Act has some language that will be difficult to navigate, including the “may not recognize” and “need not recognize” phrases in Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-6-204 (b) and (c).
  • If a party digs in on the “need not” criteria, including whether a cause of action is “repugnant to the public policy of this state,” we’re going to be having some really interesting arguments in Davidson County Chancery Court.

In short, I’m glad that Tennessee has adopted a version of the Act and that we have clarity as to whether a judgment from a foreign country will be enforceable and domesticated in Tennessee.

For years, I’ve handled a number of these, generally shoe-horning these judgments into the existing Tennessee Foreign Judgments Act.

How “Foreign” Can a Foreign Judgment be and still be Entitled to Domestication?

In an earlier post, I noted that judgments aren’t enforceable across state lines. To enforce such a judgment, the creditor has to “domesticate” that judgment, which requires that a second action be filed in the new state to recognize the out-of-state judgment. This judgment is often referred to as a “foreign judgment.”

But, what about the really foreign judgments, i.e. the ones from other countries? Can those be enforced in state courts?

The short answer is: “probably.” Pursuant to the Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act, judgments obtained abroad may be enforced in the U.S. See 13 U.L.A. 261.

Under this Act, the process follows the Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act in many ways. Keep in mind, however, that the Act specifically states that it’s a different process, so read the Act and update your forms accordingly.

Some quick tips are: (1) The party seeking to enforce the judgment has the burden of proof regarding the validity and application of the Act; (2) The party opposing the domestication has the burden of proof of any basis to assert non-recognition; and (3) The statute of limitations applicable to the original judgment applies and, if there is no statute of limitations, then the judgment becomes unenforceable after 15 years from the original effective date.