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Indiana Court of Appeals Vacates Trial Court Order Domesticating Illinois Judgment

Lesson. Perhaps the only basis upon which a judgment debtor (defendant) can prevent the domestication in Indiana of a foreign judgment (a judgment entered in another state) is to contest the Indiana court’s jurisdiction (power) to enter the judgment in the first place.

Case cite. Sekerez v. Grund & Leavitt, 77 N.E.3d 193 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017).

Legal issue. Whether an Indiana trial court’s order to domesticate a foreign judgment should be set aside because the order was outside of the trial court’s jurisdiction.

Vital facts. Sekerez was a dispute between an Illinois law firm and an Indiana client regarding payment of attorney fees. The law firm filed an action against the client in Illinois that evolved into an arbitration of their claims in Indiana. The arbitrator awarded the law firm about $50,000 in damages, and the law firm returned to the Illinois court to issue a final judgment. The client objected on the grounds of jurisdiction, but the Illinois court entered the judgment for the law firm anyway. The client then filed an action in Lake Circuit Court (Indiana) to set aside the Illinois judgment under the Indiana Uniform Arbitration Act. While the Lake Circuit Court case was pending, the law firm initiated a separate action in Lake Superior Court (Indiana) to domesticate the Illinois judgment. The Lake Superior Court granted the law firm’s motion and entered final judgment in favor of the law firm and against the client.

Procedural history. The client appealed the Lake Superior Court’s judgment. The Indiana Court of Appeals’ opinion is the subject of today’s post.

Key rules. Indiana common law provides that two courts of concurrent jurisdiction cannot deal with the same subject matter at the same time. “Once jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter has been secured, it is retained to the exclusion of other courts of equal competence until the case is determined.”

Similarly, Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(8) prohibits one Indiana court from hearing “the same action pending in another state court of this state.”

Holding. The Court of Appeals reversed the Lake Superior Court with instructions to vacate its judgment.

Policy/rationale. The arbitration order was the exclusive basis for the Illinois judgment . The Court reasoned that the issue of whether the arbitration order was valid was already before the Lake Circuit Court when the Lake Superior Court domesticated the Illinois judgment. The client was litigating whether the Illinois court lacked jurisdiction to confirm the arbitration award when the law firm filed the Lake Superior Court case. The Court of Appeals concluded that the law firm’s effort to have the Lake Superior Court domesticate the Illinois judgment simply was an attempt to circumvent the Lake Circuit Court proceedings.

As a side note, the law firm did not utilize Indiana Code 34-54-11 “Enforcement of Foreign Judgments” to domesticate its judgment. Please click on the link below to learn more. Even if the law firm in Sekerez had followed the statute, however, the client still should have prevailed based upon the jurisdictional attack.

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I frequently represent judgment creditors in contested collection actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at [email protected]. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.