While Minnesota Litigator does not normally cover family law, an imminent Minnesota Supreme Court hearing (tomorrow morning) is a family law matter with implications, perhaps, for civil litigation more broadly in the state.
Respondent Linda Dahlin and appellant Randall Kroeningdivorced in 1978. The dissolution judgment required Kroening to pay Dahlin $250 in monthly spousal maintenance. Kroening did not pay the entire amount of spousal maintenance ordered. Because judgments generally expire after ten years, Dahlin sued Kroening in 1988 for failure to pay spousal maintenance. In April 1988, the district court entered a judgment against Kroening for $7,000. Kroening did not pay that judgment, so Dahlin brought another action in March 1998. Kroening failed to answer, resulting in a default judgment in April 1998 in the amount of $7,227. Kroening did not pay any part of the 1998 judgment. Dahlin brought another action on the judgment in March 2008, seeking a new judgment with its own ten-year enforcement period.
The district court ruled that Dahlin could not obtain a new judgment because more than ten years had passed since the original judgment. The district court reasoned that a spousal maintenance judgment cannot be renewed more than once. A divided court of appeals reversed the district court. On appeal to the supreme court, the issue presented is whether Minnesota law allows multiple renewals of a judgment. (Ramsey County)
In our current economic times, there are many plaintiffs with wholly meritorious cases against insolvent defendants. They are therefore saddled with the tough call of whether to incur the expense and hassle of hiring a lawyer to vindicate their rights when, ultimately, they might find themselves with a judgment against someone who is insolvent or “judgment-proof,” as civil litigators say. One rationale for bringing suit against someone with no money: your defendants might be down on their luck now but you might seek and obtain a judgment in reliance on their future solvency. (And, presumably, their will not be particularly costly litigation against a litigant who (1) is going to be liable, and (2) has no money.)
Obviously, the viability of extending the 10-year statute of limitation on judgments plays into that analysis to some degree.