by Jack P. Bock
The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution obligate each state to recognize and respect the official acts of every other state. In the context of civil judgments, Full Faith and Credit means that the court in one state must treat a judgment entered by a court in another state the same as one of its own judgments, and must enforce it on equal terms. The only exception to this rule occurs when the court which entered the judgment lacked jurisdiction. Therefore, any challenge by a debtor to the validity of a judgment originating in another state must attack either the personal or subject matter jurisdiction of the court which entered it. Challenges to the merits of the judgment (i.e. the judgment is the wrong amount) are not valid, since these issues can only be litigated in the originating court. Challenges to personal jurisdiction, which are by far the most common, generally allege that the debtor lacked sufficient “minimum contacts” with the state where the judgment was entered. The U.S. Supreme Court requires that a person have a certain amount of contact with a state, either through repeated visits to the state or dealings with its citizens, before that state can properly exercise jurisdiction. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that the defendant has adequate notice of the possibility that they will be sued in a particular state, which is in turn required by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. Challenges to subject matter jurisdiction, while rarer, are usually more complex, since they attack the inherent right of the court to hear the case at all. The test for subject matter jurisdiction is whether the court is empowered, usually by the state legislature, to hear cases of the general class to which the claim at issue belongs. For instance, while a court would normally be empowered to hear and decide a case dealing with enforcement of a contract, if the subject matter of the contract were illegal (i.e. a contract for sale of an illegal drug), or if a particular clause was unlawful (i.e. a confession of judgment provision in a state where such a clause is unlawful), the court would lack subject matter jurisdiction to enter a judgment enforcing the contract. It is therefore imperative, in order to avoid unnecessary litigation, that creditors consult legal counsel both in the drafting and enforcement stages of any contractual relationship, to ensure that jurisdictional issues are avoided.