We are a civil litigation law firm. Most of the cases we handle arise from claims for bodily
injury caused by negligence, but all of our cases involve some kind of a dispute –
sometimes over a business relationship or transaction, a piece of property, or some other
kind of tort, or private harm – that for one reason or another the parties are not able to
resolve on their own. While the parties, if they are able to compromise, have almost
infinite flexibility in the solutions they can come up with, in most cases the only tool the
court has to solve the problem is to order one party to pay money to the other.
Well, imagine you have gone all the way through a lawsuit and come out the other side
with such an order, called a money judgment. What do you do then?
As I frequently hear judges remind the courtroom at the beginning of a calendar call, the
court doesn’t have a pile of money from which to pay successful litigants. Instead, the
winners of those judgments have to walk the last mile on their own and collect on those
judgments. Here are some of the tools available.
1. Usually the first step in collecting on a judgment is to obtain what is called a writ
of fieri facias, commonly called a fi-fa (FIE-FAY). This instrument, known as a writ
of execution in some jurisdictions, is an order from the court allowing the debtor’s
property to be seized for satisfaction of your judgment.
2. Once you have that writ, you can file a copy of it in the land records of any county
where you believe the debtor owns real estate. Although this step does not by
itself collect any money for you, it creates a lien on any property the debtor owns
in that county. Your lien will prevent the debtor from selling or refinancing the
property without paying off your lien.
3. The fi-fa, whose full Latin name means “cause it to be done,” also authorizes the
sheriff to put the judgment into effect by taking the debtor’s personal property
and selling it at auction to pay the judgment.
4. The last common tool used to collect on a judgment is the garnishment. A
garnishment is a separate legal action, technically brought not against the debtor
but against somebody who owes the debtor money, requiring the entity holding
the money to pay it to the creditor. Typically, they are filed against the debtor’s
employer (a continuing or “wage” garnishment) or bank (a “regular” garnishment).
WARNING: In a case out of Gwinnett County, a Federal court recently found Georgia’s
garnishment statute to be unconstitutional. While that ruling does not appear to apply to
wage garnishments, and does not necessarily invalidate all regular garnishments, it is a
good reason for caution. The state legislature is scrambling to fix the problem, but for the
time being you should make sure to seek out competent legal advice before pursuing a
That last mile can be a tough one. I know we get great satisfaction from turning our
clients’ judgments into actual money in hand. Good luck, and let us know if we can help.