A new law signed just before the holidays could help litigants in Washington courts trying to enforce money judgments entered abroad.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray signed the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act (PDF) on Dec. 21, revising procedures in the District for enforcing such judgments for the first time since 1995.
The law on the books in the District of Columbia and other states was originally written in 1962 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, commonly known as the Uniform Law Commission. The commission completed the new version in 2005; the District and at least 17 other states have enacted the revised act to date.
Most of the changes are subtle – clarifying that enforcement actions can be filed as a new case as well as a counter-, cross- or third-party claim, for instance – but James McKay Jr., the chairman of the District of Columbia Uniform Law Commission, which serves as a local affiliate to the national group, said they were needed to resolve disputes over technicalities that had held up cases in the past.
“The  act was very skeletal and didn’t answer a lot of questions, which created confusion,” McKay said.
A new section added to the law, for instance, explains that judges don't have to find the entire judicial system of a foreign country flawed in order to deny a judgment, and have the option of instead just considering the validity of the specific underlying case.
In one case cited by McKay during his May 31 testimony before the District of Columbia Council, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a lower court’s denial of recognition of a judgment entered in Mexico. The appellate judges found that, although the 48% interest rate on the judgment was at odds with what would be accepted by a U.S. court, Texas' version of the statute - based on the 1962 model law - didn't expressly allow judges to consider the terms of a judgment when deciding whether to recognize it.
The new version of the act also includes a 15-year statute of limitations for enforcement.
The D.C. Council unanimously voted to approve the act on Dec. 6.