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Ron Markin v. Thomas Wolff Grohmann

June 29, 2012


Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Blaine County. The Hon. Robert J. Elgee, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eismann, Justice.

2012 Opinion No. 97

) Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The judgment of the district court is reversed.

This is an appeal challenging the failure of the district court to give preclusive effect to a California federal district court judgment during a proceeding to grant recognition of a subsequent German judgment. We reverse the judgment of the district court.

I. Factual Background.

Ron Markin (Plaintiff) executed a promissory note dated November 1, 1988, agreeing to pay Thomas Grohmann (Defendant) the sum of $551,292.00, with interest at ten percent per annum. The loan was for a business transaction between the parties.

In September of 1997, Plaintiff sued Defendant in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in order to collect the promissory note. At that time, Defendant resided in Scottsdale, Arizona. On November 14, 1997, the parties entered into a written settlement agreement to resolve the lawsuit. The agreement provided that the principal and interest owing totaled $950,115.46; that the lawsuit would be dismissed if that sum, plus interest at ten percent per annum, was paid according to the terms of the agreement; that the court would retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement; that if the amount due under the agreement was not paid in full as provided in the agreement, Plaintiff could obtain a judgment as provided in section 664.6 of the California Code of Civil Procedure;*fn1 and that the agreement "shall be governed by and interpreted under the laws of the State of California." On November 26, 1997, the court entered an order retaining jurisdiction to enforce the agreement. Defendant failed to pay according to the agreement, and on December 18, 2000, Plaintiff obtained an ex parte judgment against Defendant for "the sum of $1,211,675.60, with daily interest of $260.31 from November 27, 2000, and attorney's fees in the amount of $1500.00."

After learning that Defendant owned real property in Germany, Plaintiff commenced a civil action in Germany on March 15, 2004, to enforce the California judgment. The German trial court dismissed the action on the ground that the judgment was not enforceable under German law.*fn2 Plaintiff appealed and asserted that if the judgment was not enforceable, he could recover on the settlement agreement upon which that judgment was based. The appellate court agreed, and on November 22, 2006, it issued an opinion ordering Defendant to pay Plaintiff the sum of $1,213,175.50.*fn3 The court held that it could enter a judgment against Defendant based upon the settlement agreement because he had previously been a German citizen. The German judgment is a final judgment under German law.

Defendant had raised the issue of the statute of limitations, and the German appellate court held that "the appropriate statute of limitations in accord with the Code of Civil Procedure, Section 686.020 of the State of California, the period lasts ten years, and that time had not run out when the amended complaint was raised." Section 686.020 of the California Code of Civil Procedure is not a statute of limitations. It merely provides, "After the death of the judgment debtor, enforcement of a judgment against property in the judgment debtor's estate is governed by the Probate Code, and not by this title." Cal. C. Civ. P. § 686.020. The German court apparently meant section 683.020 of the California Code of Civil Procedure. However, that code section is not a statute of limitations either. It merely provides that a money judgment may not be enforced after the expiration of ten years after the date of entry.*fn4 The California statute of limitations for bringing an action on a judgment is ten years, Cal. C. Civ. P. §§ 335 & 337.5, but the German proceedings were not an action on a judgment. They were an action to enforce the with the agreed wording - as the judge's own decision. This is here in the petition of the plaintiff himself not the case. . To this corresponds the statement in the petition for a new decree, settlement agreement. The California statute of limitations for an action on a written contract, such as the settlement agreement, is four years. Cal. C. Civ. P. §§ 335 & 337. After conducting a nationwide search, Plaintiff discovered property in Blaine County, Idaho, in which he believed Defendant had an interest. On August 12, 2009, Plaintiff filed this action seeking to have the German judgment recognized in Idaho pursuant to the Uniform Foreign Country Money Judgments Recognition Act, Idaho Code sections 10-1401 through 10- 1411.

Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and Defendant argued in opposition that the doctrines of res judicata and merger barred enforcement of the German judgment. In making this argument, he relied upon the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution of the United States and Idaho Code section 10-1404(3)(d), which provides that a court of this state need not recognize a foreign judgment if it conflicts with another final and conclusive judgment.

The district court ruled that the doctrines of merger and res judicata were not relevant to the enforcement of a foreign judgment under the Act because the application of those doctrines was simply a matter of law to be considered by the forum court, which in this case was the German appellate court. It also ruled that those doctrines were not relevant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. The court concluded that the German judgment did not conflict with the California judgment because they both had essentially the same result in awarding Plaintiff about $1.2 million. The court granted recognition of the German judgment, and Defendant then timely appealed.

II. Does the Full Faith and Credit Clause Bar Recognition of the German Judgment?

The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution of the United States provides, "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof." U.S. Const. art. IV, ยง 1. ...

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