Enforcing your Guernsey Image Rights in California

By Dr Angela Adrian

Many interested parties have posed the question how can a foreign law be upheld in the United States. The answer will be based upon a California law entitled Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgements Recognitions Act. “Instantaneous access to valuable data and information, and relatively inexpensive intercontinental transportation, combined with international commerce, have solidified the notion that we truly live in a borderless world.  Those nations that have recognized the need to guarantee fluid access to this universal system are well positioned to attract human and capital investments, precious resources in the stage of worldwide competition.  California has always been at the forefront of this new frontier.  It offers one of the most efficient, predictable and fair judicial systems in the world.  As part of that system, California has long identified the need to recognize foreign judgments as vital in its quest to stand out as a preferred destination for living, investments, and — when necessary — litigation.”1

Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act

Foreign-country money judgments may be enforceable in California only if they meet the requirements of the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act (the “Act”), which is codified in C.C.P. §§1713-1724.  The Act applies to all actions commenced on or after January 1, 2008. 2

California cases interpreting the Act have held that a judgment for unspecified amounts is not enforceable as a foreign money judgment because it does not award a specific sum of money: in Societe Civil Succession v. Redstar Corp. (2007) 153 Ca4th 697, the court held that a French judgment was enforceable where the award, subject to equitable accounting, was immediately enforceable and not subject to further proceedings in rendering court (“there was no further act or proceeding to occur in the French action in which the judgment in question was rendered”).  In Bianchi v. Savino Del Bene International Freight Forwarders, Inc. (2002) 329 Ill.App.3d  908, the court held that an Italian judgment to pay “back wages” or “matured salary” does not provide a “specific sum of money” and therefore does not meet the requirements of the statute. The party seeking recognition of the foreign-country judgment bears the burden of establishing that the judgment is entitled to recognition under the Act.

Recognition of Foreign Judgments

Under the Act, a California court must recognize a foreign-country judgment, unless one of the following applies:

  1. i) the judgment was rendered under a judicial system that does not provide impartial tribunals or afford due process of law;
    ii) the foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction;
    iii) the foreign court did not have subject matter jurisdiction.

The basic juridical scrutiny is summarized best as follows: “[i]t has long been the law of the United States that a foreign judgment cannot be enforced if it was obtained in a manner that did not accord with the basics of due process.” Bank Melli Iran v. Shams Pahlavi, 58 F.3d  1406, 1410 (holding that Iranian bank’s default judgments against former Shah’s sister were unenforceable in the United States because they were obtained without due process).  In their analysis, our courts are not after “mere niceties of American jurisprudence,” but rather, the “ingredients of basic due process.”  It is reasonable to presume that our courts will therefore be more deferential to western (or at least, Anglo-Saxon) judicial systems and their judgments, vis-à-vis other countries where the rule of law is not considered to be within the course of a civilized jurisprudence, such as those nations where the regime or the executive do not believe in the independence of the judiciary.

The breadth of the Act can be evinced by subsection (b) of C.C.P. §1717, which provides that “[t]he courts of this state may recognize bases of personal jurisdiction other than those listed in subdivision (a) as sufficient to support a foreign-county judgment.”  In Bank of Montreal v. Kough (9th Cir. 1980) 612 F.2d 467, 470-471, the Ninth Circuit recognized a British Columbia money judgment and its assertion of personal jurisdiction over a judgment debtor as consistent with American due process, where the debtor had significant contacts with British Columbia, and was served at his California residence, holding that personal jurisdiction requirements were satisfied by defendant’s contacts with British Columbia.

Non-Recognition of Foreign Judgments

Under the Act, a California court is not required to recognize a foreign judgment if any of the following apply:

  1. a) defendant did not receive proper notice of the proceedings in the foreign court to enable him or her to defend the action;
    b) the judgment was obtained by fraud that deprived the losing party of an adequate opportunity to present its case;
    c) the judgment or cause of action or claim for relief on which the judgment was based is repugnant to the public policy of California or the United States;
    d) the judgment conflicts with another final and conclusive judgment;
    e) the foreign court proceeding was contrary to an agreement between the parties calling for some other means of settlement of the dispute;
    f) the foreign court was a seriously inconvenient forum for the trial of the action, if jurisdiction was based only on personal service;
    g) the judgment was rendered in circumstances that raise substantial doubt about the integrity of the rendering court;
    h) the specific proceeding in the foreign court leading to the judgment was not compatible with due process of law.

The following case underscores the California courts’ liberal interpretation of the Act, in the spirit of comity and justice. In Crockford’s Club Limited v. Smail Si-Ahmed (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 1402, the California Court of Appeal enforced a default judgment obtained by an English gambling casino against a California resident, circumventing the debtor’s objection/defense that doing so would be against public policy (under (c) above). The court reasoned that it would be against public policy to protect persons who wrongfully seek to circumvent the substantive laws of one jurisdiction by enlisting the aid of the courts in another jurisdiction.

Final Considerations

Under the Act, if a party establishes that an appeal is pending or will be taken in the foreign county, the court may stay any proceedings with regard to the foreign-country judgment until the appeal is concluded, the time for appeal expires, or the appellant has had sufficient time to prosecute the appeal and failed to do so.

California courts are equipped with the tools and a willingness to recognize and enforce foreign judgments against California residents.  Again, this is a clear indication of California’s innovative and dynamic nature, qualities that have propelled the State to become the world’s eighth largest economic power.


1 Masserat, S. (2009) Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in California, Currents vol. 1 issue 6.

2 The Act applies to the extent the judgment: grants (or denies) recovery of a sum of money; and, is final, conclusive, and enforceable under the law of the country where rendered.

© Icondia 2015