For most people, litigation ends when the party “wins” or obtains a judgment in Georgia that is in its favor. However, this is only the start of a process that may last longer than the case itself. Although the piece of paper entering judgment against an opponent often feels like a victory, steps must be taken to collect on that judgment.
Getting a Judgment in Georgia
Below are three ways in which a judgment may be obtained in Georgia and details the steps a party may consider in hopes of collecting money, including:
First, a party may obtain a consent judgment against a defendant. O.C.G.A. section 9-12-23 permits parties to consent to a judgment that “removes any issuable defenses previously filed.”
Once a consent judgment is entered, the court may enter a judgment without a jury verdict. A consent judgment will typically include the amount owed by the party against whom the consent judgment is entered so there is no need to present evidence as to damages claimed.
Second, a party may obtain a verdict in its favor through a bench trial (where a judge makes a decision on all claims in the case) or a jury trial. When this is done, a judgment is entered against the losing party, including a determination on the amount owed to the prevailing party.
Third, and perhaps most rare, is a default judgment.
A default judgment occurs when a defendant fails to answer or otherwise appear in the case. If the defendant does this, the case enters default. If the defendant fails to pay court costs and appear in the case to reopen it within 15 days after the case entered default, the plaintiff may seek a default judgment against the defendant pursuant to O.C.G.A. section 9-11-55. At this point, judgment is automatically entered against the defendant as to all claims.
The court will, however, set a hearing to determine the amount of damages if any of the claims are related to a tort or involve unliquidated damages. The defendant will have another opportunity to appear at this hearing to contest the issue and amount of damages, but cannot avoid the judgment entered.
If a default judgment is entered as to any claim for a sum certain, the court will simply enter judgment in that amount in addition to any interest provided for in the contract. If no interest rate is specified, the court may opt to provide for the maximum interest rate permitted under Georgia law. That rate is currently seven percent per year.
Regardless of how the judgment is obtained, there are three main options to consider in attempting to collect on the judgment.
1. Filing a Garnishment
First, a party may pursue a garnishment. If the defendant has bank accounts in the state of Georgia, a party may file a financial institution garnishment to collect the money owed from any open accounts.
Additionally, if the defendant is employed in Georgia or has other contractual relationships in Georgia through which he receives payment, the plaintiff may file a continuing garnishment against the employer or contracting party. A continuing garnishment remains open for three years and obligates the garnishee to repeatedly deposit funds owed to the defendant into the registry of the court to be paid out to the plaintiff instead.
If a garnishee fails to appear in a garnishment, whether it is a financial institution garnishment or continuing garnishment, the garnishee runs the risk of becoming liable for the full amount of defendant’s debt to the plaintiff. If a defendant has bank accounts in other states or is employed in other states, the plaintiff will need to domesticate the judgment in each of those states before it may pursue a garnishment.
2. Recording a Writ of Fieri Facias
Second, the prevailing party may seek to have a writ of fieri facias (a “Fi. Fa.”) issued in any county where the defendant owns property in the state of Georgia.
This document operates as a lien against the property and allows law enforcement to levy certain property in an attempt to satisfy the debt. Again, if there is any property outside the state of Georgia, the judgment will need to be domesticated before a Fi. Fa. may be issued.
3. Conducting Post-Judgment Discovery.
Finally, if a prevailing party is unsure what assets a defendant has on which it may collect, the party should consider issuing post-judgment discovery. Post-judgment discovery may be served upon both the defendant as well as any contacts of the defendant, whether personal or professional. Those served with post-judgment discovery are required to respond under oath and their responses may reveal additional details about the defendant’s assets which will allow the plaintiff to decide on next steps.
In sum, there are many paths forward when seeking to collect on a judgment in Georgia. Doing so may just require some patience and perseverance. Regardless of whether you are looking to clear the first hurdle of actually obtaining a judgment against an individual or entity or to collect on a judgment already entered, reach out to us for help.