CT Supreme Court Affirms Right To Challenge Foreign Judgment With Special Defense

One of the many issues to consider when filing a lawsuit against a party in another state is how you will go about enforcing the judgment if you win.  For example, lets assume you live in Alaska and want to sue someone who lives in Connecticut.  You decide you do not want to hire a Connecticut lawyer, but instead decide to sue in Alaska state court.  You win a "default" judgment in the Alaska case because the Connecticut resident never appeared in the case or hired a lawyer to defend the case. alaska

Typically, in these circumstances, you take the judgment from one state, hire an attorney in the state where the defendant lives, and you "domesticate" the judgment.  In this example, you would take the Alaska state court judgment to a court in Connecticut and ask the Connecticut court to enforce it.  Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United Stated Constitution, states have a duty to recognize or give "credit" to the "judicial proceedings" of every other state.  

Sounds simple right?  Not always the case.  There are various ways to challenge a foreign or out of state judgment.  One of the primary methods Connecticut attorneys use to challenge a foreign judgment is to contest the personal jurisdiction of the court that rendered the judgment.  This is exactly what happened in Maltas v. Maltas (download here) which was officially released yesterday by the Connecticut Supreme Court. 

John Maltas, an Alaskan resident, sued his brother Brian Maltas in Alaska state court.  He won a default judgment because his brother stayed in Connecticut and ignored the lawsuit.  John Maltas then filed a lawsuit in Connecticut seeking to enforce the default judgment.  Brian Maltas raised as a special defense that the Alaska court lacked jurisdiction over the matter in the first place and no "credit" should be given to the judgment.

At the trial level, John Maltas won summary judgment after arguing that personal jurisdiction may only be challenged in Connecticut state court through a motion to dismiss as opposed to asserting an answer with a special defense.  On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the decision and stated that a special defense may be used to contest whether the Alaska state court had jurisdiction to rule on a dispute involving a Connecticut resident.  As a result, all of John Maltas’ efforts thus far, dating back to 2005, have been fruitless and reversed.  He may ultimately win at trial, but for now, jurisdictional defenses have defeated his claim without any hearing at all on the merits of the case.    

The takeaway here is that decisions regarding where to file suit are important, especially when the lawsuit will involve an out of state defendant.   There are ways to avoid or mitigate potential problems that may arise with domesticating a foreign judgment.  For example, you could elect to file the lawsuit where the defendant lives.  This may be an inconvenience in the short term, but it might also avoid jurisdictional problems when the time comes to enforce the judgment. Of course, the ability to enforce the judgment is only one of many issues to consider at the time of filing a lawsuit.