Winning a judgment is a lot different than collecting on a judgment. A properly perfected judgment will create a lien against real property owned by the losing party (“judgment debtor”) in the amount of the judgment. Section 55.10(1) of the Florida Statutes provides that when a certified copy of the judgment is filed in a county’s official records, the judgment becomes a lien against any real property owned by the judgment debtor in that county. If a judgment was recorded on or after July 1, 1994, the lien will encumber the property for 10 years after the date of recording, and the lien may be extended for an additional 10-year period by re-recording a certified copy of the judgment. Fla. Stat. § 55.10(1)-(2) (2018). However, a lien cannot last beyond 20 years from the date of entry of the original judgment. Id. § 55.10(3). This blog post addresses why your judgment lien should be extended in order to properly protect your interests.
A Judgment Lien on Real Property
While section 55.10 appears clear on its face, there has been some confusion as to whether the judgment creditor’s lien loses it priority as to any subsequently-filed liens when the judgment is re-recorded. Under Florida law, when a judgment is recorded, the judgment lien takes priority over any liens recorded thereafter, and maintains its priority so long as it exists. Franklin Fin., Inc. v. White, 932 So.2d 434, 436 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006). When the 10-year life of the original lien expires and the judgment creditor re-records the lien so as to extend it for another 10 years, section 55.10(2) provides, “[t]he extension shall be effective from the date the certified copy of the judgment…is rerecorded.” Based on a plain reading of the statute, because the re-recorded judgment is effective as of the date of re-recording, and not the date of the original, underlying judgment, any third-party’s lien filed between the original recording and the re-recording would thus have priority over the re-recorded lien. Id. § 55.10(2). This seemingly unfair result would follow, even though the original judgment was recorded first. If the judgment lien is not extended, creditors in second place and beyond get to jump first place creditors until their lien expires in the 10 year validity period.
Maintaining Priority When Re-Recording the Judgment
To avoid this unfair result, Florida case law carved out an exception to the statute, providing that if the judgment is re-recorded prior to its expiration, then the lien maintains priority as of the date of the original, underlying judgment. 932 So.2d at 437. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, in Franklin Fin., Inc. v. White, stated, “[i]f the judgment lien begins to reach its statutorily defined time limit, the judgment creditor may file for an extension pursuant to section 55.10(2). The logical result of filing an extension is that the life of the original judgment lien is extended. By extending the judgment lien’s life, the judgment creditor maintains the judgment lien’s priority over any liens recorded after its original date of recording and also over any liens recorded after its date of extension.” Id. The court then explains that a different outcome results when the judgment creditor allows the judgment lien to lapse prior to filing for an extension. Id. When that occurs, the judgment lien ceases to exist. Id. While the judgment creditor may re-record the judgment after its expiration, a new judgment lien is created, and it takes no priority over previously-recorded liens. Id. The court analogizes this situation to “a child that wanders out of a queue.” Like the child, “the newly rerecorded judgment lien has lost its place and must go to the back and stand behind all previously recorded judgment liens.” Id. This case law is logical in that it rewards a creditor who is actively pursuing and keeping track of the debts owed to it.
A More Equitable Result
Though not supported by the plain language of the statute, the Franklin decision provides for a more equitable treatment of a judgment creditor who has not been able to satisfy the judgment during the first 10 years of the lien’s life. 932 So.2d at 437. Pursuant to Franklin, so long as the lien is re-recorded prior to the expiration of the initial 10- year life of the lien, then the lien shall continue to take priority over any lien filed subsequent to the original judgment lien. Id. This makes sense, as it rewards the diligent creditor, who monitors the status of his lien and does not allow it to expire prior to re-recording it.
Therefore, a party who receives a money judgment in Florida and records a lien against the opposing party’s real property, must be aware of when the lien expires. If the judgment has not been satisfied prior to the lien’s expiration, the party must re-record the lien prior to the expiration of the lien’s initial 10-year life, so as to ensure the party does not lose priority vis-à-vis any subsequent lien holders.
Read this blog for more information on Judgement Liens: