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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.

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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.