Attorney Eric D. Puryear

The Process and Options in Iowa Collection Matters

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Obtaining a judgment often requires significant time and effort for litigants. Unfortunately, just having a judgment does not mean immediate payment. Collection is often required.

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Iowa law provides a process that a judgment-creditor (a party holding a judgment) must use to collect from a judgment-debtor (the party who owes the judgment). This process is long-standing and utilizes terms and rules that many litigants find unfamiliar. Nevertheless, it is important to follow this process.

The post-judgment collections process begins with applying for what is called a “praecipe” or a “General Execution.” The General Execution is a document sent by the Court to the sheriff of a particular county (where the collection will take place) telling that sheriff what action to take.

There are a number of actions that the sheriff may take at that time. These include garnishing a bank account, garnishing wages, and demanding payment. The judgment-debtor may claim certain property exempt and there are limits, depending on the judgment-debtor’s income, as to how much money may be garnished in a given period of time.

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Whether you are looking to seize an asset, garnish a bank account, or garnish wages, you will need to know certain information about the judgment-debtor that you may not know at the outset. If the General Execution involves a demand (to the judgment-debtor to turn over property) by the sheriff, and if that demand is refused, then it is possible to engage in what Iowa refers to as a “judgment-debtor examination.”

Debtor’s examinations are governed by Iowa Code chapter 630 and they are useful in determining whether there is any property in the possession of or due to the judgment-debtor that may be used to satisfy the judgment. During a debtor’s exam, the judgment-debtor must answer all proper interrogatories (questions) directed to the judgment-debtor by the judgment-creditor. If property is discovered, then a further General Execution may be issued by the court to levy upon the property or to order the property delivered to the judgment-creditor.

The judgment-debtor’s examination can be a powerful tool for judgment-creditors. Failure of the judgment-debtor to answer proper interrogatories of the judgment-creditor or failure to appear for the examination could result in an order to show cause (good reason) why the judgment-debtor should not be held in contempt of court, which could result in punishment by the court, including jail.

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Iowa law provides other avenues to satisfy a judgment. When a judgment is obtained, a judgment lien is automatically placed against real property (land) owned by the judgment-debtor in the county of the district court that issued the judgment.

Liens are powerful tools for collection, and should not be overlooked in collecting on judgments — even if the judgment-debtor resides out of state or in a different county within the state. In such instances, the judgment may be registered, and a lien entered with the county recorder. This can cause real difficulties for the judgment-debtor, which may encourage payment sooner rather than later. On the other hand, failure to perfect a lien could give rise to defenses which may allow a judgment-debtor to contest it. It is important to ensure that such a process is done correctly.

Whether you have obtained a judgment or a judgment has been obtained against you, it should be clear that you need to take a strategic and thorough approach in utilizing your options. Having an attorney who is familiar with these rules and processes will maximize your potential outcome.

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