Time Limits on Civil Judgments & Executions

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A civil judgment means the act or order of the trial court finally adjudicating the rights and obligations of the parties to the case. A judgment includes a decision and order in favor of the plaintiff or defendant based on the merits, which becomes final if not appealed, and generally awards money damages or injunctive relief to a plaintiff, or orders dismissal of the case when the defendant wins. Obtaining a writ of execution is the next necessary step to collecting a judgment of money damages.

A writ of execution is a legal document obtained from the court that allows the plaintiff to collect the amount of the judgment and directs a sheriff to attach any non-exempt personal property of a debtor and hold it for sale at a public auction. The execution can also be levied against real estate owned by the defendant by recording the execution with the Registry of Deeds in the county where the property is located and acts as a lien against the property which must be satisfied before a sale or refinancing. At the time of collection of a judgment, the plaintiff generally may obtain an updated execution from the court that accounts for statutory post-judgment interest on the amount awarded which accrues at the rate of 12% per annum.

Does The Judgement Limit Expire?

By statute “[a] judgment or decree of a court of record of the United States or of any state thereof shall be presumed to be paid and satisfied at the expiration of twenty years after it was rendered.” This statute has generally been interpreted to mean that a judgment is good for twenty years and must be enforced within that time. However, in one recent case, the Appellate Division of the District Court clarified that a judgment does not expire after twenty years, but rather the statute merely creates a rebuttable presumption of satisfaction of the judgment that may be overcome. The passage of time does not make the judgment void.

In that case, a creditor commenced an action in District Court to collect on a judgment that had been issued more than twenty years before and the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the collection action and a motion for relief from judgment in the original action arguing that the judgment became void due to the passage of twenty years. The district court judge adopted the defendant’s argument and granted the relief from judgment. On appeal, the Appellate Division found that under the statute, the judgment remains in force unless satisfied and there was no indication in the record that the judge gave consideration to whether evidence submitted may have overcome the statutory presumption that the judgment was satisfied. The Appellate Division also noted that the defendant’s argument relied on the language in the writ of execution to the effect that it expires after twenty years elapse, and that “[t]he expiration of the execution does not affect the validity of the judgment.” Accordingly, the Appellate Division remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings in the collection action.

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