Court of Appeals Enforces Foreign Judgment Under Principles of International Comity

In this published opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals applies the common-law principle of international comity to enforce a foreign judgment entered in the Canadian province of Quebec.  Because it was a “support order” entered in conjunction with a custody order, the Canadian party presented the judgment to the Friend of the Court in Oakland County, rather than to the clerk of the court.  The Friend of the Court denied the request to register and enforce the order on the grounds there was no reciprocity agreement between the United States and Quebec under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, MCL 552.1101 et seq.; MCL 750.151 (Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement Act).  The Canadian party then filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court, which concluded it had subject matter jurisdiction and ordered enforcement of the order against the Michigan defendant.  The Circuit Court apparently made its ruling on the basis of international comity.

The Court of Appeals affirmed on that basis as well, holding that based on the clear evidence substantiating the content of the foreign judgment, the trial court correctly exercised jurisdiction on the basis of international comity and properly enforced the Quebec child support order.  Comity is defined as the recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive, or judicial acts of another nation, having due regard both to international duty and convenience and to the rights of its own citizens or of other persons who are under the protection of its laws. Dart v. Dart, 460 Mich. 573, 580 (1999), citing Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113 (1895).

This is not a particularly surprising outcome.  However, it seems the Court of Appeals could have also reached the same conclusion by looking to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA), MCL 691.1171.  Michigan has adopted the UEFJA, which is based on the principle of international comity in respecting foreign judgments.  See generally Electrolines, Inc. v. Prudential Assurance Co., et al., 260 Mich.App. 144; 677 N.W.2d 874 (2003).  Michigan’s 1997 adoption of the UEFJA gave parties the option of filing a copy of a foreign judgment with a court.  Id.  Section 3 provides that a party may file a copy of a foreign judgment “authenticated in accordance with an act of congress or the laws of this state….”.  Id.; MCL 691.1173.  The clerk must treat the foreign judgment in the same manner as a judgment of the circuit court, the district court, or a municipal court of this state. Id.  A judgment filed under the UEFJA has “the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses, and proceedings for reopening, vacating, or staying as a judgment of the circuit court, the district court, or a municipal court of this state and may been enforced or satisfied in like manner.”  Id.

The real “appellate” question in my view remains whether the requirement of reciprocity in the  the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, MCL 552.1101 et seq.; MCL 750.151 (Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement Act) somehow preempts (because it is a specific requirement of reciprocity) the common-law principle of international comity, which is, after all, a common law rule as opposed to a statutory requirement.  Since the Canadian party in this case attempted to file the support order with the Friend of the Court as opposed to the clerk of court, perhaps because they were directed that this was the proper place to file a child support award order, the Friend of the Court denied the request relying on the admitted absence of reciprocity by and between the United States and the Province of Quebec with respect to child support orders entered in Quebec.

This may have in fact been correct, although it does not appear that the losing party’s lawyer raised this issue in the trial court or on appeal.  On the other hand, a “foreign judgment” properly presented to a clerk of court in Michigan is presumably otherwise subject to enforcement in Michigan under the UEFJA.  However, if a statute requires more specific legal requirements, i.e., reciprocity by and between the rendering state and the receiving state, then perhaps this was independent grounds to argue error in the circuit court’s assumption that international comity would allow recognition of the rendering state’s judgment.

The published opinion is attached here: Gaudreau v. Kelly

About cjtucker06

Owner of law firm since July 2014; Handles all types of appellate matters and assists other lawyers with complex litigation and insurance coverage issues; Admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the State Bar of Michigan; Expertise in prosecuting and defending appeals with several significant successes in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals; Author of briefs amicus curiae in the Michigan Supreme Court for the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel and the Insurance Institute of Michigan; Represents Insurance Companies, Major International Business, Governmental Entities, Law Enforcement Officers and County Sheriffs. Board of Directors, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Amicus Committee Co-Chair, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Military - Retired Major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the United States Army, Brigade Judge Advocate and Staff JAG officer for the Maneuver Training Center, Camp Grayling, Michigan; Recipient of the Army's Meritorious Service Medal (the highest medal of honor available to Soldiers serving in non-combat roles); 2012 Graduate of the Judge Advocate Officer Advanced Course, at The Judge Advocate Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia. United States Navy Reserves, Combat Warfare Qualification, January 1989 to July 2003 Former law clerk to Justice Stephen J. Markman, Michigan Supreme Court, Research Attorney, Michigan Court of Appeals. Insurance Coverage Associate Plunkett Cooney; Environmental Law Attorney at Squire Sanders, now Squire Patton Boggs; Master's Degree in Environmental Law; Environmental Law Scholar, ALI/ABA Washington, D.C., Juris Doctorate, Vermont Law School, Environmental Editor, Vermont Law Review; Treasurer and Finalist, Moot Court Advisory Board.
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