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Heitmann & Associates, Inc. v. Grad Associates, P.A.

A-3416-98T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)

PROFESSIONAL FEES; FULL FAITH AND CREDIT—A judgment for professional fees issued in another state will be enforced in New Jersey even if New Jersey statutes would bar the collection of the fees because the professional was not licensed in New Jersey.

The question presented was whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution requires the domestication of a foreign judgment notwithstanding the provisions of a New Jersey statute that would have precluded the plaintiff from recovering damages on the same cause of action if it had been originally brought in a New Jersey state court. Here, an engineering and surveying firm, a Missouri corporation, brought suit in Missouri against a New Jersey company for the collection of money due under a professional consulting services contract. The construction project was in New Jersey and the defendant was the architect. The architect argued that the claimant was barred from recovery on the grounds that it was not licensed in New Jersey and that New Jersey statutory law barred recovery under such circumstances. It did not contest jurisdiction over the subject matter of the dispute or jurisdiction over its person. The Missouri court entered summary judgment against the New Jersey company. The Missouri corporation then filed suit in New Jersey seeking to domesticate the Missouri judgment. The New Jersey company opposed the action, claiming that the suit was in violation of the New Jersey statute that barred collection of compensation for engineering or land surveying services by unlicenced persons or entities. The lower court entered summary judgment in favor of the Missouri company, holding that it was required to do so by the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. In fact, the statute in question establishes a procedural threshold to maintain a suit in New Jersey by requiring a claimant to allege that it was licensed. Accordingly, the New Jersey company argued that it was not seeking to invalidate the Missouri judgment, but was only seeking to enforce the New Jersey statute. The Court found this distinction without legal significance. “If defendant’s argument here was successful, the effect would be the same as if the defendant had argued for dismissal of the judgment on substantive grounds.” An action to domesticate a foreign judgment is distinct from the underlying claim and does not address its merits. The New Jersey company had a full and fair opportunity to argue in the Missouri court that the public policy undergirding the New Jersey statutes on the subject should govern. The Missouri court’s adjudication on the merits of the claim was a obvious rejection of that defense. “Whether the Missouri court was right or wrong is irrelevant to our consideration.” Accordingly, the Court decided to give effect to the Missouri judgment.


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