You won the case, and your client was awarded monetary damages! Now you need to execute on the judgment. Sometimes the losing party will pay up right away and be done with it. Often they don’t. To collect the monetary award, you must use the special rules and procedures for post-judgment collection proceedings.
Commence after Final Judgment
Generally, a federal court cannot not enter final judgment until it has resolved all claims as to all parties. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54 provides that when an action involves multiple claims, whether a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party claim, or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of final judgment as to fewer than all claims or parties, but “only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.” While it is not proper to commence collection proceedings prematurely, in cases where “there is no just reason for delay,” it may be prudent to request entry of final judgment as to a single claim on which your client has prevailed.
State and Federal Rules Apply
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69(a) provides that the procedure to execute on a money judgment “must accord with the procedure of the state where the court is located.” Thus, after winning a civil judgment, a judgment creditor will use state law procedures in supplemental federal proceedings to collect the award. State law might allow the judgment creditor to pursue a writ of execution, a writ of garnishment and order to garnish wages or bank accounts, or a lien on the judgment debtor’s property. These procedures must be followed precisely. It is essential that counsel be familiar with the applicable state rules, forms, and deadlines.
For example, in California, the district court may order an examination of a judgment debtor based on an ex parte application by the judgment creditor pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 708.110. The judgment creditor must personally serve a copy of the order on the judgment debtor at least 10 days before the examination. California law also permits a judgment creditor to serve discovery on the judgment debtor, including requests for production or inspection of documents.
At the examination, the judgment debtor is required to testify about financial solvency and the location of any assets that may be used to satisfy the judgment. If the judgment creditor served document requests, the judgment debtor will typically bring the relevant documents to the examination, unless the parties agree to an earlier production date.
The courtroom portion of the proceeding is relatively brief. The case is called, and the parties state their appearances on the record. The court then explains the proceedings to the judgment debtor, and the judgment debtor is put under oath. The parties typically conduct the examination in a jury room or conference room at the courthouse but may do so over Zoom during COVID-19.
If a judgment debtor who has been properly served with a notice of examination fails to appear or refuses to answer the examination questions, the judgment creditor may seek an order of civil contempt against the judgment debtor.