Pennsylvania Judgment Collection. Why is it so difficult? | High Swartz LLP
Although obtaining a favorable judgment is the result of prolonged and costly efforts, collecting a judgment is arguably even more difficult.
Customers are often bewildered and even disappointed to realize that winning a business is simply a judgment in their favor. But when it comes to judgment collection, that’s another matter. So, they wonder what was the point of months of litigation? What was the point of all the confrontations? Any expenses associated with hiring a litigator?
For example, a applicant or an injured party who takes legal action may spend months or even years arguing for redress for the damage suffered. Or a landlord can work hard in court for months to try to evict a delinquent tenant who hasn’t paid their rent. A business can also fight and fight for compensation when a former business partner refuses to honor a contract.
Litigation continues, with apparently no end in sight. Finally, after what appears to be a half-life, the court sets a trial and the plaintiff appears in court against his opponent. The plaintiff pleads his case, and after a tense trial, wins the case. The claimant is delighted to learn that the relief he requested months, if not years before, may be obtained imminently. Customers tend to believe that by the time the jury (or the judge, if it is a trial) announces a verdict in their favor, they are only minutes away from leaving the courthouse. with a check in hand.
Unfortunately for these customers, nothing could be further from the truth.
The judgment collection differs greatly from a verdict
The party who assessed the judgment (called a judgment debtor) often takes a long time to avoid ceding property to the litigant (called a judgment creditor). So what does a judgment creditor do next, after spending a lot of time, money and resources, when they finally win a lawsuit?
First, it is essential to understand that a verdict is different from a judgment. Pennsylvania law recognizes that a judgment is an official entry of a decision or decision of the trial judge on the roll. You can collect on a judgment, not on a verdict.
Since a judgment and a verdict are different, it is essential that the judgment creditor “convert” a verdict or other decision of the court, which ultimately determines the rights and obligations of the parties, into a judgment. This action requires the filing of a “Praecipe to Enter Judgment” with the prothonotary of the county, where the verdict was rendered. Only then can the judgment creditor begin to collect his judgment.
Attach privileges to a judgment collection
Next, the judgment creditor should check where the judgment debtor keeps his property. A judgment acts as a lien on property belonging to the judgment debtor. However, this privilege only applies when the judgment is deposit.
If the trial judge makes a judgment of $ 5,000.00 in Montgomery County, but the judgment debtor owns a house in Bucks County and has no other property, then the judgment creditor can never get it. the $ 5,000.00 owed to him. In this example, the judgment creditor must transfer the judgment from Montgomery County, where it was originally registered, to Bucks County, where the judgment debtor’s property is located.
When the judgment debtor attempts to sell his Bucks County home, a title search will alert potential buyers to the $ 5,000 judgment, and the judgment will remain attached to the house until it is paid or satisfied. The judgment creditor can transfer the judgment to any county, although it makes more sense to transfer the judgment to a county where the judgment debtor owns property.
The judgment creditor can continue to exercise liens on the property until the amount of the judgment is paid. A judgment creditor looking to transfer judgments to other counties should know that each county has its filing requirements and fees. If an overzealous creditor is not careful, he can accumulate administrative fees which total the same amount of the judgment!
Filing of an enforceable title
Once the judgment creditor has determined where the judgment debtor keeps their property, they can ask the relevant county sheriff for assistance in seizing the judgment debtor’s assets, including bank accounts and other personal items. The county sheriff has the power to seize bank accounts and make sales of confiscated real estate.
Use of the sheriff’s office requires filing a writ of execution with the county prothonotary, who then signs the writ of execution. The signed writ of execution, along with the costs, is then sent to the sheriff.
The judgment creditor must describe in detail in the writ of execution the assets to be seized, such as money, personal property or real estate.
To better determine the amount, location, and other information about the judgment debtor money, Pennsylvania civil procedure rules allow the judgment creditor to engage in a “discovery for the purpose of execution.”  The judgment creditor can receive a deposition from anyone, including the judgment debtor or any representative of the bank (or any other financial institution that holds the judgment debtor’s funds), called a garnishment. The pre-execution examination can be carried out at any time after judgment, including before the prothonotary approves the writ of execution.
Examinations at garnishment
The judgment creditor may also consider issuing a written disclosure to the garnishee, known as “garnishee interviews”, to obtain more information about the judgment debtor’s monetary assets. The judgment creditor can serve the examinations on the garnishee each time the writ of execution is issued. The garnishee then has twenty days under Pennsylvania law to provide the judgment creditor with written responses.
Note that although a judgment creditor can use these legal tools to foreclose a bank account, wage garnishment is generally not available in Pennsylvania. It is only in a few very limited exceptions that a judgment creditor can garnish the salary of a judgment debtor. The judgment creditor should be aware of this when planning how to collect his judgments.
If the judgment debtor is strapped for cash, the judgment creditor can ask the sheriff (by way of a duly drafted writ of execution) to levy duties on the personal effects or real estate of the judgment debtor. The sheriff can take an inventory of available personal property and schedule a sale of the assets, which is open to the public, a few weeks later.
If the judgment is substantial, say tens of thousands of dollars, then attaching a judgment lien against the judgment debtor’s house may be an option. However, the costs associated with obtaining a judgment on real estate can cost the judgment creditor hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
In addition, the sheriff usually only makes real estate sales at regular intervals, even as rarely as every other month. It might take a judgment creditor as long to collect its judgment as it does to obtain the judgment in the first place.
In any case, the circumstances surrounding a judgment and the way to collect it are never the same for two judgment creditors. A judgment creditor seeking recovery should contact a litigator to discuss the nuances of their case, the types of relief available, and how to obtain that relief.