You have successfully prevailed on your lawsuit, and has been awarded a court judgment. Unfortunately, despite the Judgment being signed and ordered by a Judge, it is merely a legal document that states you have the right to that specific sum of money. If the losing party does not comply with the Judgment and does not voluntarily turn the money over, you will now need to determine how to actually enforce the judgment. The statutory scheme in court judgment enforcement is codified in California Code of Civil Procedure § 680.010 through § 724.60.
A “judgment creditor” is the person or entity in whose favor the judgment is rendered or the assignee of record. A “judgment debtor” is the person or entity against whom the judgment is rendered. All property of a judgment debtor is subject to enforcement of a money judgment, unless an exception is provided by law.
There are numerous ways for a judgment creditor to collect from the judgment debtor. Below are several common enforcement methods:
- Lien on Real Estate – If the judgment debtor owns real property, the judgment creditor may record a lien on the property through the County Recorder’s Office. If the debtor attempts to sell or refinance the property, the creditor will be paid out before the debtor. Once a lien is properly recorded, the creditor may also explore foreclosing on the judgment lien and forcing the sale of the property.
- Wage Garnishment – If the judgment debtor is employed, you may garnish up to 25% of the amount over the federal minimum wage that the debtor earns until the judgment is paid in full. Once the judgment creditor knows the name and address of the debtor’s employer, the creditor may request the employer to withhold the nonexempt portion of the debtor’s disposable earnings.
- Bank Levy – If the judgment debtor has a bank account or safe deposit box, the judgment creditor may be able to take money from the account or seize the contents from the box. The judgment creditor will notify the bank institution where judgment debtor’s assets are located, and the bank will immediately freeze such accounts and deposit box.
- Lien on Personal Property – A judgment creditor can have the sheriff take the judgment debtor’s personal property and sell it at a public auction to pay the debt. This can be any type of property including jewelry, computer, electronics, musical instruments, antiques, coin collections, etc. Unfortunately, this is an expensive process and only if the property is extremely valuable would this process be applicable.
- Placing a Lien on a Lawsuit the Debtor has Against Someone Else – If the judgment debtor has a lawsuit against someone else, the judgment creditor may place a lien on the money the debtor may recover if he or she wins the lawsuit.
- Placing a Keeper (Writ of Attachment) – If the judgment debtor is a business or the sole proprietor of a business, the judgment creditor may summon the sheriff to visit the business premise and take all the money on the business premise to pay for the debt. A sheriff deputy may be posted at the cash register to take possession of all funds paid to the business.
- Suspending the Debtor’s License – If the judgment is related to an accident (e.g. a car accident relating to a driver’s license; construction defect relating to a contractor’s license), the judgment creditor may be able to have the judgment debtor’s license suspended.
Consult with an experienced collections attorney who can determine the most cost-effective and fastest method to collect on a court judgment or debt. Many attorneys are willing to conduct the collection efforts on a contingency basis.