A foreign judgment is a judgment entered in a country that is outside of the United States. Foreign Judgments can be enforced under American law, often pursuant to treaties with foreign countries, if it can be proven that there is a fair final judgment from another country. In law, the enforcement of foreign judgments is the recognition and enforcement in one juridisction of judgments rendered in a foreign jurisdiction. The enforcement of foreign judgments is often regulated by bilateral treaty or multilateral international convention. However, it is practiced unilaterally in some jurisdictions. The holder of a foreign judgment, decree or order may file suit before a competent court in the U.S. which will determine whether to give effect to the foreign judgment, if the time to appeal in the court of origin has lapsed, and the judgment has become final. The local version of the Uniform Foreign Money Judgments Recognition Act applies in most states, 13 U.L.A. 149 (1986).
Arbitration awards enjoy the protection of special treaties. The U.S. is a signatory to international conventions regulating the enforcement of arbitration awards such as the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, 21 UST 2517; TIAS 6997; 330 UNTS 3, and the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, 14 I.L.M. 336 (1975). Ratified treaties in the U.S. are considered “supreme law of the land”.
A judgment rendered in a “sister” state or a territory of the U.S. is also referred to a “foreign judgment”. 47 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have adopted the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, 13 U.L.A. 261 (1986), which requires the states and the territories to give effect to the judgments of other states and territories, if an exemplified copy of the foreign judgment is registered with the clerk of a court of competent jurisdiction.
The only U.S. states which have not adopted the Act are Indiana, Massachusetts and Vermont. When seeking to enforce a judgment in or from a state that has not adopted the Uniform Act, the holder of the judgment files a suit known as a “domestication” action. Even in the absence of the expedited procedure under the UEFJA, the domestication of a judgment from another state is generally a formality since the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. constitution requires that states honor the judgments of other states.
A state may not enforce a foreign judgment on grounds such as:
- The judgment was obtained by fraud;
- The judgment is repugnant to the public policy of the state where enforcement is sought;
- The judgment conflicts with another final and conclusive judgment;
- The judgment was rendered in the absence of impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law;
- The foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant;
- The foreign court did not have jurisdiction over the subject matter;
- The defendant did not receive notice of the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him/her to defend;
- In the case of jurisdiction based only on personal service, the foreign court was an inconvenient forum for the trial; or
- The judgment seeks to enforce the revenue and taxation laws of a foreign jurisdiction.
- The proceeding in the foreign court was contrary to an agreement between the parties under which the dispute was to be settled;
Generally, when the court is to apply a foreign law, it must be proved by foreign law experts. It cannot merely be pleaded, as the court has no expertise in the laws of foreign countries nor in how they might be applied in a foreign court. Such foreign law may be considered no more than evidence, rather than law because of the issue of sovereignty. If the local court is actually giving extraterritorial effect to a foreign law, it is less than sovereign. Therefore, it acts in a way that is potentially unconstitutional.