Enforcement of Foreign Judgments In The United States

There is no federal law governing the enforcement of foreign judgments.  Furthermore, the US is not a party to any treaty that requires recognition or enforcement of foreign judgments. Thus whether a foreign judgement is enforceable is dependent on the state where the judgment holder seeks to enforce the foreign judgment. 

Most states in America have adopted laws which recognize foreign judgments.  The core of these laws state that a foreign judgement is enforceable if the judgment is for money and is final (ie not subject to appeal). 

What kind of judgments are enforceable in the US?

  • Money judgments
  • Default judgments


What kind of judgments are NOT enforceable in the US?

  • Tax judgments of a foreign government
  • Criminal judgments


Process for enforcing judgments.

Most states require the party seeking to enforce the judgment to file a certified copy of the foreign judgment with the court in the state where enforcement is sought.   If the judgment is in a foreign language, it should be accompanied by a certified English translation.  A declaration by an expert in the law of the foreign country is also required that states that the judgment is final, conclusive and enforceable in the foreign country. Finally, the courts often require that a declaration be filed under penalty of perjury that states the name and last known address of the debtor, as well as a statement that the debtor was given (i) notice of the foreign lawsuit and (ii) an opportunity to defend. 

How can a debtor challenge the enforcement?

  1. Inadequate service of process

By FAR the most common grounds to challenge the enforcement is that the debtor was not provided with adequate notice of the foreign lawsuit and did not have the opportunity to appear before the foreign court to defend itself.

It you are a foreign party who has filed a lawsuit in a foreign country against a US-based debtor, you must personally serve the defendant with the lawsuit and allow the defendant  to defend itself in the foreign court.  If you do not personally serve the defendant, assume that you WILL NOT be able to enforce the judgment in the US.  YOU MUST PERSONALLY SERVE the debtor if you want to make sure the US judge will honor the foreign judgement. 

  1. The foreign court lacked jurisdiction (authority) to hear the case or enter judgment.

A US judge will only enforce a foreign judgment if the foreign court had authority to hear the case. 

Examples where the foreign court had jurisdiction

In a contractual dispute between the parties, if the contract said that any dispute must be hear in Country X, but a Judge in Country Y heard the case and issued a judgment, the US court will not enforce the judgment.

In a contractual dispute where the defendant was never present in Country X and where there was no agreement that the defendant agreed to be sued in Country X, a US judge will not enforce a judgment from Country X. 

On the other hand, US courts will find jurisdiction in instances where:

  • the contract stated that courts in Country X had the authority to hear disputes and a judge in Country Y issued the judgment
  • the defendant’s actions giving rise to the dispute took place within the country where the judge issued the judgment.

Thus in analyzing whether a US court will enforce a foreign judgment, the terms of the contract between the parties is of crucial importance.



Skip to content