Minnesota civil litigators spent very little time trying cases, as we all know. From that, it follows that Minnesota civil litigators, generally, spend very little time collecting on money judgments. Roughly 99% of civil lawsuits are either thrown out of court, or settled far in advance of any judgment, or, a very small percentage, settled post-judgment (for example, after summary judgment or while a case is pending appeal). Even fewer contested cases require collection efforts.
So Minnesota civil litigators generally do not spend very much time converting court judgments into cash.
(The exceptions to the rule are collections specialists like Twin Cities attorneys George Warner or John Halpern or, sometimes, particular large firm lawyers who are assigned this kind of work on behalf of the firm (like Bricker Lavik used to do for Dorsey & Whitney LLP). Lawyers like them spend a lot of time monetizing unopposed judgments against “judgment debtors” who have no defenses to creditors claims and therefore do not appear and defend the creditors’ claims. (Unfortunately for the debtors, “I don’t have the money” and “I do not want to pay you” are not normally viable defenses.))
But, for the rest of the Minnesota civil litigation bar, I thought it might be useful to dig a bit into just what this means, “Let Judgment Be Entered.” What does it entail? How long does it take? What is “docketing a judgment”? Is “docketing a judgment”a synonym of “entering a judgment” or something entirely different and distinct?
First, disclaimers: (1) collecting on a judgment is a lengthy process and it is not the intent of this post to walk readers through all of the steps. These are just some interesting aspects of the process worthy of note; and (2) if you have obtained a judgment, do not rely on this post as legal advice to enforce the judgment or for any other reason. Consult a lawyer. Every single case requires individualized attention.
“Let Judgment Be Entered Accordingly”
The words, “Let Judgment Be Entered Accordingly,” are very often referred to by judges, court personnel, and collection lawyers as “magic words.”
The Court system is made up of administrators who follow instructions of judges. Administrators are not judges, of course, and they are not supposed to or allowed to exercise judgment in their work. They are simply supposed to execute orders from the judges.
So that this division of responsibility is clear, administrators insist that judges specifically use the magic words, “Let Judgment Be Entered Accordingly,” or they simply will not enter judgment.
By the same token, a judge can order, “Let Judgment Be Entered Accordingly,” completely by mistake. (It might happen more often than you think.) Regardless, the court administrators job is without discretion. Such errors by a district court judge will not be vetted or second-guessed by court administrators. Judgment will be entered in such cases.
What is “entering judgment”?
Court personnel inform me that “entry of judgment” is not an onerous or time-consuming task. Information is entered into the court’s case management system and the document that includes the “magic words” gets a court stamp. Then “Notice of Entry of Judgment” is sent out to the parties (directly or through attorneys of record).
All civil litigators know (or really should know) that this is relevant for purposes of calculating the time for appealing a final judgment.
Is this the same as docketing a judgment?
No. While entry of judgment is relevant to starting the clock for appeals in many cases tried to final judgment, “docketing” the judgment relates to enforcing the judgment against the judgment debtor.
I had the good fortune of being able to catch collections lawyer, George Warner, in my drafting this post and he cautions: to docket a judgment, one must file an Affidavit of Identification of the Judgment Debtor. The court administrators will not docket a judgment absent this document and court administrators might not clue in a judgment creditor or its lawyer about this requirement. Sometimes judgment creditors sit on their hands awaiting the docketing of their judgments, not realizing that they themselves are the hold-up due to their failure to submit this affidavit to the court for filing.
Why are there delays sometimes between when a judge renders a judgment and when judgment is entered?
In preparing this post, a very helpful person from district court administration noted to me that, in the olden days before electronic filing, the court could not enter judgment until the judge in a case delivered the physical file. Sometimes this could cause delay.
Furthermore, sometimes judges fail to use “the magic words.” Other times, there can be uncertainty or a lack of clarity in some aspect of the judgment (for instance, questions of how or if interest should be calculated on a money judgment) and these questions can slow the process down as court administrators seek clarification from judges and so on.
Seth Leventhal is a Minnesota civil litigator with nearly twenty years of experience in civil litigation in Minnesota state and federal courts. And he blogs about it from time to time. Fortunately, he is rarely forced to use judicial action to enforce money judgments but, if the need arises, he can help or refer you to someone ever better at it than he (like these guys: George Warner or John Halpern).