You or your business may have a judgment against a person or business in SC – but how do you collect a judgment in SC and how long does the judgment last?
At the end of a civil lawsuit, unless there is a settlement and the defendant pays what they owe, you may end up with a civil judgment – a piece of paper filed with the court – instead of money in your pocket.
In cases where there is insurance coverage, the insurance company will usually pay the judgment unless they file an appeal. But what happens when there is no insurance coverage and the individual or business refuses to pay?
Judgments against individuals or businesses for personal injury claims or contract disputes are meaningless unless you can covert the judgment into dollars – you can’t spend a piece of paper in the court’s file, right?
The Myrtle Beach business law attorneys at Coastal Law may be able to help you turn your judgment into cash, a process that attorneys refer to as:
- Collecting on a judgment;
- Enforcing a judgment; or
- Executing a judgment.
But there is a time limit – if you have a judgment that you need to enforce, call us as soon as possible before time runs out.
How Do I Collect a Judgment in SC?
It can be difficult to collect a judgment in SC from a defendant who is not cooperating.
The first step is usually asking the Sheriff to execute the judgment on the defendant’s property. This may end the litigation, but, more often, the Sheriff will return the judgment “Nulla Bona,” or unable to collect.
If the Sheriff’s execution is not successful, you may need to file supplemental proceedings with the local Master-in-Equity to preserve your claims and continue the collection process.
How Does a Judgment Lien Work in SC?
In South Carolina, a judgment lien can be attached to real estate owned by the debtor – the lien is automatically attached to any property that is in the county where the judgment was filed.
In many cases, the debtor will also own property in other SC counties – the lien does not automatically attach to those properties.
After conducting an asset check and locating any property that is owned by the debtor, we can also attach the lien to properties in other SC counties by filing the judgment with the Clerk of Court for Common Pleas in the counties where the properties are located.
What if the judgment is from another state, but the debtor owns property in SC?
How Do I Collect a Foreign Judgment in SC?
The SC Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act makes it clear that, pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution, judgments from other states can be enforced in South Carolina.
SC Code Section 15-35-920 provides the procedure for “domesticating” a foreign judgment in SC. The foreign judgment must be filed with the clerk of court for the county in which the debtor lives or owns property. Along with the judgment, the creditor or their attorney must also file an affidavit that states:
- The foreign judgment is final;
- The judgment is unsatisfied (in whole or in part);
- The amount that is unpaid on the judgment; and
- Whether the judgment is contested (if there are pending post-trial motions or an appeal).
We must then serve the notice of filing on the debtor and they have 30 days to contest the judgment – if they do not contest the judgment or if the court denies them relief, then the judgment can be enforced as if it were a SC judgment.
Are There Exemptions to Collecting a Judgment in SC?
There are exemptions that may prevent us from enforcing a judgment in SC – for example, the first $50,000 in equity on the debtor’s primary residence cannot be seized.
What if the Debtor Does Not Have any Assets?
If the debtor does not have any assets, we cannot enforce the judgment. Before making this decision, you should complete a thorough asset check both in SC and other states and ensure that the debtor is not hiding assets.
What if a Debtor is Hiding Their Assets?
How do I collect a judgment in SC if the debtor is hiding their assets?
For financially savvy debtors who want to avoid paying what they owe, they might hide their assets from the court by:
- Keeping cash instead of bank accounts;
- Putting assets in their spouse or other family members’ names;
- Using off-shore accounts;
- Setting up a “silent interest” in their businesses; or
- A combination of the above.
In some cases, we may not be able to locate or access hidden assets – when property was transferred to avoid paying you, however, SC courts will assist us in undoing the fraudulent transfer.
When a debtor has engaged in a “fraudulent conveyance” to avoid collection on your judgment, we may be able to “undo” the conveyance and access the funds – conveyances of property intended to defraud a creditor can be declared void by the courts, allowing you to access the property and collect a judgment in SC.
How Long Does a Judgment Last in SC?
Most people know that a judgment, or a judgment lien, lasts for ten years in SC – if you do not act to collect a judgment in SC within the ten years, your judgment is “extinguished.”
SC Code Section 15-39-30 says that there is a ten-year limit to execute a judgment in SC and that the period cannot be renewed:
Executions may issue upon final judgments or decrees at any time within ten years from the date of the original entry thereof and shall have active energy during such period, without any renewal or renewals thereof, and this whether any return may or may not have been made during such period on such executions.
Unlike statutes of limitations in personal injury cases, where you must only file the lawsuit before the deadline, the SC Supreme Court recently made clear in Gordon v. Lancaster that, to execute a judgment in SC, you must obtain a final order from the court before the ten-year deadline.
This means that you cannot file supplemental proceedings to execute a judgment a month, a few months, or even a year before the deadline if you want to be sure you are not “timed out.”
Delay tactics by the debtor – even fraudulent conveyances that require time to undo, as was the case in Gordon v. Lancaster – can result in the deadline passing even when you were diligent and filed proceedings well in advance of the ten-year mark.
SC Judgment Collection Attorneys in Myrtle Beach, SC
Your SC business litigation attorney at Coastal Law can help you to locate a debtor’s assets and collect a judgment in SC, even when the judgment is from another state.
If you need help enforcing financial agreements, prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, negotiating a settlement, or collecting a judgment in SC, call now at (843) 488-5000 or get in touch with us by email for a free consultation about how to protect your financial interests.