After a court enters a judgment in a civil case, it is up to the prevailing party (sometimes called a “judgment creditor”) to execute that judgment. This requires a writ of execution, which is a form of legal process issued by a court that directs the court marshal to seize (or “attach”) the assets of the losing party (sometimes called a “judgment debtor”) to satisfy the judgment debt.
Here’s some information about writs of execution and how they are used:
- Jurisdictional limits: Writs of execution are typically only limited to the state or territory in which the court is located, unless a federal statute, rule, or court order extends its jurisdiction. A writ of execution issued in Florida, then, would likely not be applicable in the U.S. Virgin Islands unless it is enforceable under a federal statute or it is given the same force and effect of a Virgin Islands writ through a process known as “domestication of a foreign judgment.”
- Issued and served by: A writ of execution is issued by the clerk of the court that issued the judgment. Writs from the District Court of the Virgin Islands or the U.S. Bankruptcy Court are served by the United States Marshal. Writs from the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands are served by the Virgin Islands Marshal.
- Service: Any writ of execution must be served in accordance with all instructions contained in the writ and with all local laws. The judgment creditor may be required to provide an indemnity bond and advance deposit to cover any out-of-pocket expenses estimated to be incurred by the U.S. Marshal. In some cases, it might be helpful for the judgment creditor to accompany the Marshal in the execution of the writ to answer any questions that arise.
- Eligible assets: Under Virgin Islands law, a judgment creditor whose judgment only allows for recovery of money damages must first try to attach the personal assets of the judgment debtor. A judgment creditor can only attach real property owned by the judgment debtor if there are not enough personal assets to satisfy the judgment. (In foreclosure actions, however, the mortgaged property can be attached immediately without first attaching personal assets.) The Virgin Islands protects certain assets from attachment, such as the family homestead (up to $300,000), automobile, and other personal effects. A judgment creditor can ask the court to hold a hearing (called a “judgment debtor examination”) where the judgment creditor can ask for details about the judgment debtor’s finances in order to uncover attachable assets.
- Attachment of assets: The Marshal will take physical custody of any attached property that is capable of being moved and hold it until it can be sold at a public auction. For immoveable assets (such as real estate), the Marshal will attach the asset by physically posting the writ at the property. Assets are ordinarily held under supervision of the court, though there are some circumstances (such as in admiralty cases) where the judgment creditor or a third-party custodian can assume control over the attached property and be directly responsible for its maintenance. In such a case, the judgment creditor usually must provide the Marshal with a signed statement that revokes any liability on the part of the Marshal for any damages incurred to the property as a result of the seizure while the property is in his or her custody. The Marshal maintains responsibility for selling the attached property.
- Return: The “return” of the writ is a certification by the marshal detailing the assets that were attached. If cash money for the judgment is collected, the return will specify how the funds were applied and what further action should be taken.
- Till tap: In some cases, the party whose property is being seized is a business rather than a particular individual. A “till tap” involves seizing money directly from the cash register of a business as part of the service of a writ of execution. Local laws dictate the execution of a till tap.
This is just a brief overview of what a writ of execution is and the processes associated with it. For more information about how to execute a judgment and collect the money you’re owed as part of your lawsuit, contact an experienced attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands today.
A. Jennings Stone is an attorney in the litigation practice group and concentrates his practice in the area of foreclosures at the law firm of BoltNagi PC. BoltNagi PC is a full-service business law firm in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.