Too Little, Too Late: Seventh Circuit Reaffirms the Limits of a Registration Proceeding Under 28 U.S.C. § 1963

07 July 2014 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog

In Goldman v. Gagnard, No. 12-2706 (June 27, 2014), the Seventh Circuit (in an opinion authored by Judge Tinder) waded into a long-running, continent-spanning dispute, which it characterized as “Dickensian” in character, arising out of water leaks in a California house that was sold ten years and five judicial proceedings ago. The court’s ultimate holding was that the sellers had waited too long to raise an error that a California state court allegedly made almost three years ago, and had thereby waived any error. 

What’s important about the case, however, is that, in the course of reaching its conclusion, the court reminded us of its decision 14 years ago in Board of Trustees, Sheet Metal Workers’ Nat’l Pension Fund v. Elite Erectors, Inc., 212 F.3d 1031, 1034 (7th Cir. 2000), that when a federal judgment is registered in another district for collection, under 28 U.S.C. § 1963, the court in the receiving district may not modify the judgment but must enforce it as entered.

That rule rightly prevents what could be considerable confusion if multiple districts modified the judgment in potentially different ways. Any motion for relief from the judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), therefore, must be made in the rendering court.

The appellants (the Gagnards) attempted to use the appellee’s registration proceeding in the Northern District of Illinois as a means to raise a setoff issue that they previously had not litigated when a federal district court in California confirmed an arbitral award against them. The Seventh Circuit thought that the Gagnards had ample opportunity to litigate the issue in the California district court or, at least, in a related California state-court proceeding. The Northern District of Illinois was “a tribunal entrusted not with sifting through the substantive arguments, but simply with enforcing the judgment entered by the entities that invested significant resources and time in determining which parties owed what to whom.” Slip Op. 9. It thus “did not have jurisdiction to substantively ‘modify or annul’ the judgment of the California federal court.” Slip Op. 9-10.

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