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New York Confession Of Judgment From Cognovit Note Enforceable In Indiana

Lesson. Although Indiana does not permit cognovit notes (confessions of judgment), our state will enforce properly-entered foreign judgments based upon the otherwise prohibited language. The key is to determine whether cognovit notes are legal in the state that entered underlying the judgment.

Case cite. EBF v. Novebella, 96 N.E.3d 87 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether Indiana courts must give “full faith and credit” to a “confessed judgment” entered in New York pursuant to a cognovit note.

Vital facts. Plaintiff obtained a judgment in a New York state court based upon the Defendant’s alleged breach of a contract. The contract, a purchase agreement, contained a clause with the following language: upon a default “… [Defendant] hereby authorizes [Plaintiff] to execute in the name of the [Defendant] a Confession of Judgment in favor of [Plaintiff] in the full uncollected Purchase Amount and enter that Confession of Judgment with the Clerk of any Court and execute thereon.” (This type of clause transforms the agreement into something called a “cognovit note.”) The contract in EBF expressed that it was to be governed by and construed under New York law.

Procedural history. The New York court entered a judgment pursuant to the confession of judgment clause. Because Defendant was an Indiana company, Plaintiff came to Indiana and filed a Petition to Domesticate Foreign Judgment that asked the Indiana trial court to recognize and enforce the New York judgment. (Plaintiff did not proceed under the statutory method to enforce the foreign judgment.) Defendant contested the Indiana action on the basis that the judgment was void under Indiana law. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the Plaintiff appealed.

Key rules. Generally, a cognovit note is a legal device whereby the debtor consents in advance to the creditor’s judgment without notice or hearing. Evidently, such confessions of judgment are allowed in the State of New York.

Indiana Code 34-54-3-1 essentially is Indiana’s definition of a cognovit note.

Importantly, cognovit notes are prohibited in Indiana. See, I.C. 34-54-3-2. In fact, Indiana makes it a crime to procure such a note or enforce it. I.C. 34-54-4-1. A key concept here is that the promise to pay cannot be entered into before a cause of action on the underlying agreement has accrued. I.C. 34-54-3-3.

Nevertheless, the Court in EBF noted that, under Indiana common law, “a valid foreign judgment based on a cognovit note will be given full faith and credit in Indiana … based upon the Federal Constitution’s ‘full faith and credit’ clause.” Article IV, Section 1. Indiana cases articulate “full faith and credit” as meaning: “the judgment of a state court should have the same credit, validity, and effect, in every other court of the United States, which it had in the state where it was pronounced.” The Indiana Code adopts full faith and credit at I.C. 34-39-4-3.

The full faith and credit rule has two exceptions/limitations: if, in the foreign court, there was an absence of (1) subject matter jurisdiction and/or (2) personal jurisdiction. The debtor/defendant has the burden of proof on these jurisdictional matters, meaning that it must rebut the presumption of the judgment’s validity.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Policy/rationale. The Court concluded that constitutional federal full faith and credit rules and policies trumped Indiana’s statutory prohibition on cognovit notes/confessions of judgment. The underlying judgment appeared “on its face to be rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction and [Defendant] did not challenge the jurisdiction of the New York court to enter the judgment.” For more on the policies behind full faith and credit, read the EBF opinion, which impressively lays out all the applicable and competing ideas.

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing parties to judgment enforcement actions. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. 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.


Lender’s Summary Judgment Affidavit Flawed - Business Records Inadmissible

Lesson.  For lenders and servicers filing motions for summary judgment, always remain mindful of the elements of the Evidence Rule 803(6) business records exception to the hearsay rule.  An insufficient supporting affidavit could doom the motion.     

Case citeHolmes v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust, 94 N.E.3d 722 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue.  Whether, on a motion for summary judgment, the lender proved it owned the subject loan and thus had standing to bring the claim. 

Vital facts.  This case involved what appeared to be a straightforward default under a school loan.  The original lender sold a pool of loans to National Collegiate Funding LLC, which then sold the pool to the plaintiff lender.  The defendant in the case was the student’s father, who co-signed the loan.  There seemed to be no question that the loan was in default.      

Procedural history.  Lender filed a motion for summary judgment.  The trial court granted the motion and ordered the father to pay the debt, plus interest and costs.  The father appealed.

Key rules

To make a prima facia case  for summary judgment, the plaintiff lender in Holmes was required to show that the defendant father executed a contract for a loan and that the lender was the assignee of the loan - and thus the owner of the debt.  Indiana law also required the lender to establish that the defendant owed the original lender the amount alleged.

Indiana Trial Rule 56(E) states that affidavits on summary judgment “… shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify as to the matters stated….”

Inadmissible hearsay contained in an affidavit may not be considered in ruling on a summary judgment motion.

Indiana Evidence Rule 803(6) discusses the “business records” exception to the general hearsay rule and outlines the elements of admissibility.

Holding.  The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment for the lender and concluded that it failed to make a prima facia case.   

Policy/rationale

The defendant in Holmes contended that the lender’s designated evidence (documents) constituted inadmissible hearsay and, as a result, the lender failed to show that it was entitled to summary judgment.  The Court’s opinion is a technical lesson in evidence and provides an example of how an assignee (a successor-in-interest) can get tripped up in a simple loan enforcement claim.

When Holmes first came down last year, some thought the ruling may have created a real problem for servicers to obtain summary judgment in cases involving loan assignments.  In reality, the plaintiff in the case simply failed to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  There is favorable case law in Indiana, and across the country, concerning how assignees and successors-in-interest can establish a prima facia case pursuant to the Rule 803(6) business records exception.  But the affidavit in Holmes was deficient as to several key elements, according to the Court: 

Here, the [affidavit] provided no testimony to support the admission of the contract between [defendant] and [original lender] or the schedule of pooled loans sold and assigned to National Collegiate Funding, LLC, and then to [plaintiff], as business records pursuant to Evidence Rule 803(6). There was no testimony to indicate that [the witness] was familiar with or had personal knowledge of the regular business practices or record keeping of [the loan originator or that of plaintiff] regarding the transfer of pooled loans, such that she could testify as to the reliability and authenticity of those documents. Indeed, [the witness] offered no evidence to indicate that those records were made at or near the time of the business activities in question by someone with knowledge, that the records were kept in the course of the regularly conducted activities of either [original lender or plaintiff], and that making the records was part of the regularly conducted business activities of those third-party businesses.

Also noteworthy is that Holmes was not a mortgage foreclosure case.  The school loan in Holmes was not secured, and the opinion does not address one way or another whether there was a UCC negotiable instrument at issue.  Thus the Court did not analyze some of the more conventional ways of proving standing, such as the possession of an original promissory note and/or the recording of an assignment of mortgage.     

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, in contested mortgage foreclosure cases.  If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. 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.