Determining the Statute of Limitations Period for Enforcing a Foreign Judgment in Florida

The Constitution of the United States of America is the ultimate authority which allows foreign judgments to be domesticated in Florida.  Judgments of any other state in the union may be domesticated in Florida, but its statute of limitations varies depending on how and why a petitioner is seeking enforcement.  This article will articulate the two methods of enforcing a foreign judgment in Florida and the different statutes of limitations attached to each method.

Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State”.  This language is commonly referred to as the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.  It directs that judgments, as public records of a state, must be given full faith and credit in every other state in the union as if it originated in the domesticating state.  This language is codified in Sections 55.501-55.509 of the Florida Statutes as the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (“FEFJA”).

Pursuant to FEFJA Section 55.503, a foreign judgment may be recorded by the clerk of the circuit court of any county.  It goes on to state:  “A judgment so recorded shall have the same effect and shall be subject to the same rules of civil procedure, legal and equitable defenses, and proceedings for reopening, vacating, or staying judgments, and it may be enforced, released, or satisfied, as a judgment of a circuit or county court of this state.”

After codification of FEFJA, debates began to arise throughout Florida courts regarding the proper statutes of limitations for enforcing a foreign judgment.  Fla. Stat. § 95.11 states that an action on a foreign judgment shall be commenced within five (5) years.  However, to give full faith and credit to a foreign judgment in the truest sense would mean that any foreign judgment must be treated in the same manner as a Florida judgment.  The statute of limitations on a Florida judgment is twenty (20) years.  This discrepancy is reconciled by acknowledging that there are actually two different methods of enforcing a foreign judgment in Florida, each method with a different statute of limitations.

 Florida case law shows that the two methods of enforcing a foreign judgment in Florida are an action on a foreign judgment and domesticating a foreign judgment.  The first method is exactly that method listed in Fla. Stat. § 95.11, or more specifically, “[a]n action on a judgment or decree of any court, not of record, of this state or any court of the United States…”  Any action instituted in Florida on a foreign judgment must be brought within five years of entry of that judgment in its forum state.  Once a Florida judgment has been rendered in the independent action, that judgment will be enforceable for twenty years.  The other method is domestication.  A foreign judgment may be domesticated at any time while active in the forum state and is given up to twenty years of validity in Florida under FEFJA.  Now it may seem like these terms “action on a foreign judgment” and “domestication” mean the same thing.  However, courts have determined that they are actually very different and that is why they have different statutes of limitations.

In New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance v. Friona, 902 So.2d 864 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), the Fourth District Court of Appeals stated that the act of domesticating a foreign judgment under Fla. Stat. § 55.503 is not the same as an action on a foreign judgment under Fla. Stat. § 95.11.  The Court reasoned that simply recording the foreign judgment is not equivalent to bringing an action in a Florida court upon the foreign judgment.  Id at 866.  An action upon a foreign judgment will have the shorter five year statute of limitations.  A foreign judgment that has been domesticated under FEFJA is given the same statute of limitations as a judgment originally entered by a Florida court, or twenty years.  The only caveat to that statement is that a foreign judgment cannot be enforced in Florida for a period of time longer that would have been allowed in the judgment’s original forum.  Id.  Therefore, a foreign judgment domesticated in Florida will be effective for the length of time remaining on the statute of limitations in the forum state or twenty years, whichever is shorter.  Id.

The language used by the 4th DCA is only one of the more recent decisions referencing the rule laid out by the Florida Supreme Court more than fifty years ago.  In Young v. McKenzie, 46 So.2d 184, 185 (Fla. 1950), the Supreme Court stated that proceedings supplementary do not constitute an action upon the judgment.  As such, § 95.11 does not apply to shorten the time for seeking enforcement.  An action upon a judgment would be an independent action filed with a court to bring new life to the judgment itself or the lien of the judgment.  Id.  It seems logical to assume then that any proceedings which only seek to facilitate execution would be given a longer period of time in which to seek enforcement.

Now that there is a clear understanding of the difference between an action on a foreign judgment and domestication, it is simple to determine which statute of limitations to apply.  If you follow the methods found in Fla. Stat. § 55.503 to merely domesticate a foreign judgment, your new Florida judgment will be effective for the remaining time left on the judgment in the forum state or twenty years, whichever is shorter.  However, if an independent action is filed to extend the life of the original foreign judgment, that action must be filed within five years of the foreign judgment’s original date of entry.  Understand?

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