Lesson. When enforcing an out-of-state judgment in Indiana, the law presumes that the foreign judgment is valid. That presumption can be overcome with proof that the plaintiff failed to properly serve the defendant with a summons and complaint in the original case.
Legal issue. Whether, following the entry of a judgment in Wisconsin, an Indiana order authorizing the sale of the Defendant’s stock was void because the Plaintiff served the Wisconsin summons and complaint at the Defendant’s former dwelling.
Vital facts. Defendant allegedly executed a guaranty of a $653,000 promissory note, which was in default. Troxel was about the Plaintiff’s efforts to collect on the guaranty in both Wisconsin and Indiana, and the related efforts by the Plaintiff to serve the Defendant with a summons and complaint. One of the compelling factors was that the Plaintiff served Defendant at his former residence in Indiana.
Procedural history. The Plaintiff obtained a judgment in Wisconsin and then sought to enforce the judgment in Indiana under I.C. 34-54-1. The Indiana trial court recognized the judgment and then, at the Plaintiff’s request, entered an order for the sale of the Defendant’s stock in a separate company for the purpose of satisfying the judgment. When the Defendant got wind of the judgment and stock sale, he filed a motion to set aside the judgment in the Indiana court.
Troxel set out the following general rule and its fundamental exception:
The United States Constitution requires state courts to give full faith and credit to the judgments of the courts of all states. U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1. However, an out-of-state judgment is always open to collateral attack for lack of personal or subject-matter jurisdiction. Thus, before an Indiana court is bound by a foreign judgment, it may inquire into the jurisdictional basis for that judgment; if the first court did not have jurisdiction over the parties or the subject matter, then full faith and credit need not be given.
A judgment entered without jurisdiction is “void.”
Importantly, the defendant/judgment debtor bears the burden of rebutting the presumption that a foreign judgment, which is regular and complete on its face, is valid.
Troxel spells out various trial rules applicable to service of a summons and complaint, including Trial Rule 4.1(A)(3). The Court noted that, under Indiana law, “service upon a defendant’s former dwelling [aka usual place of abode] is not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction.” (This Indiana service rule applied to the original action in Wisconsin.)
Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s sale order.
Policy/rationale. The Plaintiff argued that the Wisconsin judgment was presumed to be valid and that the Defendant failed to overcome the presumption. The Court of Appeals disagreed and cited to evidence in the record that, a few weeks before he was served with process, the Defendant had moved from the service address. Because the Wisconsin court did not have personal jurisdiction over the Defendant when it entered judgment, the judgment was void. It followed that all the Indiana orders also were void.
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Judgment creditors sometimes engage me here in Indiana to enforce judgments entered in other states. 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.