The United States Constitution is crystal clear, “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” The purpose of this provision of the Constitution was to convert the United States from a loose association of independent fiefdoms into a cohesive nation. With such straightforward instructions from the Constitutions it would appear obvious that any judgment entered by the court of another state would be entitled to the full faith and credit of the Connecticut courts. Unfortunately, that is not quite the case.
In Connecticut, the courts will honor another state’s judgment only if the defendant filed an appearance in the other state. If the defendant filed an appearance all that is required is filing a simple form and sending notice. Then you can collect on the out-of-state judgment just like any other Connecticut judgment pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-605.
If the defendant did not file an appearance in the other state. Then you have to file a whole new action in Connecticut to “domesticate” the out-of-state judgment. The scope of the domestication action is limited. The Connecticut courts can only look into whether or not the judgment was properly entered by the other State’s court and that the other State’s court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The Connecticut courts do not re-litigate the matter. They cannot inquire into substantive matters, like liability, damages, or defenses to the out-of-state judgment. Even claims of fraud, mistake, or violation of Connecticut’s public policy are irreverent when domesticating a foreign judgment.
The Burden of Proof
The burden of proof is slightly different in a domestication as well. Unlike an ordinary civil case where the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence all the elements of the claim. In a domestication action the plaintiff only has to an initial showing that adequate service was made and that the other State’s court properly took jurisdiction over the claim. The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove the other State’s court did not have jurisdiction over her.
Collecting the out-of-state judgment
At Jacobs & Rozich we had these types of claims regularly. They typically arise in a couple of situations. First is where a debtor has a judgment enter against her then moves to Connecticut before any collection has taken place. Second is when a contract as a forum selection clause in another State and a judgment is entered there against a Connecticut resident.
These claims are legally simple to litigate with the lower burden for the plaintiff. Still, the cross border issues and occasional cross country parties can become logistically complex. Lawyers must understand the procedural rules of the other State’s court to prove that the judgment was properly entered there. Some States have relatively simple procedural rules but some are almost impossible to make heads or tails of. In either event domesticating an out-of-state judgment is always an opportunity to expand our firm’s knowledge base and client reach.