Collecting on a California Court Judgment

Court judgments are the final decisions from civil courts regarding suits brought by persons, businesses or public entities against others. There are various types of civil suits and nearly all request some amount of monetary damages.

What is a civil court case?

When a plaintiff sues a defendant in a California courtroom, they are seeking to win a judgment. A lawsuit is brought in civil court, as opposed to criminal court. The suit may be sought in a local, state or federal court.

The cases are designated by stating “Plaintiff v Defendant,” such as “Roe v Wade.” The “v” is short for versus, meaning “against.” The first name is that of the plaintiff and the second is the defendant.

What is a judgment?

A judgment is the final decision made by the court in a suit, whether in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant. If the plaintiff wins, the decision includes the amount of money awarded. Even if the plaintiff wins the judgment, collection of the monetary award might not take place right away.

How does a party appeal a judgment?

An appeal states that the party that did not win the lawsuit case disagrees with the decision of the court. There must be proper reasons for the disagreement. The party that lost the judgment takes the case to the next higher court, which may or may not agree to hear the appeal.

If the court agrees to hear the case, the court’s decision will either overturn or affirm the lower court’s decision. The highest court of appeal is the U.S. Supreme Court.

In California, the parties are given 30 days from the date that the clerk mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment (SC-130) to appeal the decision if they appeared at the trial. If they were not properly served, the time limit is extended to 180 days. If the defendant did not appear at the trial, they may request that the judgment be vacated, or canceled.

How does one collect the award of a judgment?

The court does not collect the award. They do issue the documents necessary for the plaintiff to collect the judgment money awarded. The judgment may remain uncollectible if the defendant has no money or property that can be seized.

The defendant should complete and mail to the plaintiff a Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets (SC-133). This document tells the plaintiff which assets are available to attach in case the defendant does not pay the judgment to the plaintiff in cash.

What does a plaintiff do if a defendant ignores the judgment?

The winning plaintiff has several resources if the debtor defendant refuses to pay the award ordered by the court, including:

  • Communicating with the judgment debtor.
  • Seizing assets that the plaintiff either knows about or are listed on the Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets form.
  • Take the debtor to court to locate unknown assets.
  • If the suit is the result of a vehicle accident, the plaintiff may suspend the judgment debtor’s driver’s license.
  • The plaintiff may suspend the judgment debtor’s professional license (example: Physician’s License or Contractor’s License).
  • Place a lien on land, buildings or residence so that the debtor will be unable to sell the property without paying the plaintiff the full amount of the judgment.
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