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Time Limitations Upon The Enforcement Of Non-Indiana Judgments In Indiana

A lawyer from New York recently contacted me after reading my November 20, 2007 post 6 Steps To Enforce A Non-Indiana Judgment In Indiana.  Her client holds a 1994 judgment entered in the State of New York.  She was curious whether her fourteen-year-old New York judgment could still be enforced in Indiana.   

20 years-execution.  Yes, the New York party can domesticate its foreign judgment here in Indiana and proceed with execution, without fear of being time barred.  Ind. Code § 34-11-2-12, entitled “Satisfaction of Judgment or Decree by Expiration of Twenty Years,” states:

Every judgment and decree of any court of record of the United States, of Indiana, or of any other state shall be considered satisfied after the expiration of twenty (20) years. 

This is not a twenty-year statute of limitations but rather a rule of evidence creating a rebuttable presumption of satisfaction (payment) by the lapse of time (twenty years).  Odell v. Green, 121 N.E.2d 304 (Ind. Ct. App. 1918).  In a suit in Indiana on a foreign judgment, instituted after the expiration of twenty years after entry of the judgment, the plaintiff/judgment creditor cannot recover unless it proves the judgment remains unpaid.  Hendricks v. Comstock, 1859 Ind. LEXIS 111 (Ind. 1859).  Since the New York judgment falls within the twenty-year period, the plaintiff/judgment creditor, after domestication of the judgment under I.C. § 34-54-11, can immediately execute. 

10 years-lien.  When New York counsel contacted me, she feared that too much time had passed.  Based upon her quick review of Indiana law, it was her understanding that Indiana may have a statute of limitations of ten years.  I.C. § 34-55-9-2 “Lien Upon Real Estate – Time Limitation” states, in pertinent part:

All final judgments for the recovery of money . . . in Indiana . . . constitute a lien upon real estate . . . in the county where the judgment has been duly entered and indexed in the judgment docket as provided by law:  . . . (2) until the expiration of ten (10) years after the rendition of the judgment . . ..

This ten-year statute of limitations specifically relates to a judgment lien on real estate and not the judgment itself.  In Indiana, a money judgment automatically becomes a lien on real estate owned by the defendant/judgment debtor in the county where the judgment was rendered.  This lien, which can be foreclosed, exists on the real estate for ten years.  Although the lien expires, the judgment itself may be enforced up to twenty years after its entry.  Needham v. Suess, 577 N.E.2d 965 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991). 

Which state’s law applies?  What if New York law held that judgments were presumed paid after ten years?  Would Indiana’s twenty-year statute still apply, or would the Indiana action be subject to New York’s ten-year rule?  In 1859, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed that very issue in Hendricks.  The plaintiff/judgment creditor filed suit in Indiana to collect on a seventeen-year-old Michigan judgment.  Michigan at the time had a statute identical to I.C. § 34-11-2-12 except that the time period was ten years, not twenty.  The defendant/judgment debtor in Hendricks argued that the case should have been dismissed based upon the presumption of payment under the Michigan statute.  The Indiana Supreme Court rejected the argument and held that, because the defense related to the remedy, not the merits, the law of the state where the action was pending (Indiana) applied.  According to Hendricks, the rules of the foreign state do not govern judgment enforcement actions.  Indiana’s do.