Your business did what it was supposed to do when faced with a customer or client that owed money for goods or services your company provided under an agreement signed by both parties: You retained an attorney, who then filed a complaint in Maryland state court, or if the agreement called for it, filed an arbitration demand with the appropriate arbitration forum, against the other side on your company’s behalf.
Your business paid the attorney out of its own pocket and did things by the book. The other side may or may not have hired an attorney, and maybe did not take part in the case at all. Your attorney propounded discovery, the other side may or may not have complied with your requests. Your attorney attempted to depose a representative of the other side. You and your attorney showed up in court or at the arbitration on the day of the hearing, the other side may or may not have, and if they did show up, maybe with or without an attorney representing them.
The judge or arbitrator sided with your company after a trial or arbitration hearing on the merits, or your company was simply awarded a judgment by default when the other side failed to appear. In any event, your company was awarded damages, and maybe even attorney’s fees depending on what the agreement at issue said.
But when you left the hearing room that day, unfortunately you did not leave with a check from the other side. Instead, you left with a court’s order, or an arbitrator’s award, merely stating that you won and how much.
So the question now is, how do you actually get paid what the court or arbitrator awarded? Often times, the trial or arbitration is not the end, but rather only the mid-way point, of the collection process.
The first thing you must do in this situation is identify the debtor’s assets, as well as determine the value of each, by following Md. Rule 2-633, titled “Discovery in aid of enforcement.” Rule 2-633 states that you may conduct discovery in writing by mailing to the other side no more than 15 questions and requests for documents regarding the assets and other financial information of the debtor. These are known as Interrogatories in Aid of Execution. The debtor has 15 days from receipt to respond to these Interrogatories.
In addition to Interrogatories, Md. Rule 2-633(b) states that you may also petition the court to order the debtor to appear before a judge and answer under oath your questions related to the identity of the debtor’s assets. This is called requesting an Oral Examination in Aid of Enforcement of Judgment. Both of the above options may take place no earlier than 30 days after entry of the judgment.
Should the debtor ignore your Interrogatories or Request for Oral Exam, there are additional measures you may take, including filing to hold the debtor in contempt of court.
Assuming the debtor complies with your written requests or your oral exam, and you have successfully determined what assets the debtor owns and the value of each asset, now it is time to turn your attention to actually collecting on the judgment. One option you have is to garnish an individual debtor’s wages, done by filing a Request for Garnishment of Wages form with the court. You will then receive the garnished wages within 15 days of each of the debtor’s pay periods.
A second collection option is garnishing an individual or corporate debtor’s bank account. This is accomplished by filing a Request for Garnishment of Property Other Than Wages form with the court, using the financial information you gathered in your Interrogatories or Oral Exam. After 30 days, you must file an additional form, a Request for Judgment Garnishment.
Yet another collection option is seizing a debtor’s property or real estate, then selling it to help satisfy your judgment. Doing so requires the recording of your judgment in the circuit court for the county where the property is located, complete and file a Notice of Lien, and then file a Writ of Execution. This process if more complicated and time consuming than either garnishing wages or a bank account. Retaining a competent business attorney to help you in your collection efforts is a smart move.