• January 27, 2017

Many of us think that when litigants win an award of money in court, they actually get the money. All of the money.

Most understand that the government does not just cut a check to a winning plaintiff against a losing defendant and then chase the defendant  for reimbursement (though that’s an interesting idea and we wonder if such a system exists anywhere on earth).

Many might imagine that, after a plaintiff wins an award of money, the judge orders the defendant(s) to pay the plaintiff. Many imagine that “the justice system,” plays an active and on-going role in getting defendants to pay up on judgments against them.

Not so. In our justice system, if the defendants are uncooperative, it is the plaintiffs and not the court system who have to spearhead “collection efforts.” These efforts can take months or years. These efforts can cost a lot money and sometimes more than the amount of the judgments themselves. These efforts are sometimes futile dead ends. As we have lamented before, our justice system more often than not falls far short of making meritorious plaintiffs whole.

If it takes years and tens of thousands of dollars to collect on debts, then our legal system is, of course, useless to help citizens collect relatively small debts.

Fortunately for “judgment creditors,” however, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling this week that will give them a tiny boost in their recovery efforts.

Robert Crockarell borrowed $100,000 from his father and step-mother securing the loan with a promissory note. Robert defaulted on the note. Papa Crockarell and his wife had to sue son, Robert, for repayment. Robert, in response, counterclaimed against Papa and Step-Mama (“P & S-M”), claiming that their lawsuit on the promissory note was a scheme to pressure Robert to go back into the family business. Robert took the position that he might owe P and S-M on the promissory note but they were going to be owing him $11+ million on his claims against P & S-M.

Ramsey County Judge Robert A. Awsumb decided that P & S-M were entitled to repayment on the note (plus interest and attorneys’ fees for the costs of collection) but he decided to delay entry of final judgment until Robert’s claims against P & S-M were resolved.

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the trial court did not have the power to defer entry of judgment on P and S-M’s lawsuit for collection on their promissory note.

The Minnesota Supreme Court got this one right. There no clear law that allows the trial court to defer entry of judgment in a case like this one. Furthermore, without prejudging Robert’s counterclaim(s) against P & S-M (about which we know nothing), it is all too common that debtors, responsible for debts beyond question, often with the help of creative (and, too often, unscrupulous) counsel, fabricate defenses and counterclaims to drag out and delay the inevitable. Our system should not make such an obvious ploy too easy.


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