There are two methods to enforce in Alberta a Judgment obtained outside Alberta. One alternative is available for judgments obtained in any jurisdiction (subject to certain common law defences), which is to sue on the “foreign” judgment, generally by issuing a Statement of Claim. The other alternative is only available in respect of certain jurisdictions, and it is to bring an application under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act (REJA). This remedy is only available for judgments from other “reciprocating” jurisdictions, and is generally a more streamlined procedure. There are also some statutory defences available under this procedure.
A recent decision of the Court of Appeal of Alberta illustrates another difference between these procedures, which is the length of time a party has to bring proceedings to enforce the judgment before the limitation period expires. in Laasch v. Turenne, 2012 ABCA 32 the Appellants had obtained a default judgment against the Respondent in Montana in 2006. In 2008 the Appellants applied to the Alberta Court to have the Montana judgment enforced pursuant to the REJA (Montana is a reciprocating jurisdiction). The REJA permits an application for enforcement to be made within 6 years of the original judgment.
The application to enforce the Montana judgment under the REJA was unsuccessful, due to one of the statutory defences. Before this application was heard, the Appellants had filed another action suing on the Montana judgment. This action was filed more than two years after the Montana judgment was obtained.
When the REJA application was unsuccessful, the Appellants sought to pursue the other action they had commenced. The Respondent raised the defence of limitations, claiming that since two years had elapsed before the action was commenced, the usual two-year limitation period in the Limitations Act applied. The Respondent brought an application to strike the claim on the basis of the expired limitation period. Though initially unsuccessful before a Master, the appeal to a Chambers Judge was successful and he found the action was out of time. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the Chambers Judge. Both of the latter courts concluded an action based on a foreign judgment is like most other actions, and must be commenced within two years of obtaining the foreign judgment.
This case illustrates a trap for the unwary. The limitation period to commence a common law action is four years shorter than an application under the REJA. Most litigants are likely to use the REJA where the original judgment originates from a reciprocating jurisdiction, because the procedure is simpler and usually more expedited. Although it is recognized there are some statutory defences under the REJA, litigants and their counsel are not likely to also file a common law action “just in case”.
In light of this decision, litigants who are close to the two-year point from grant of the original judgment, and have not yet enforced the judgment under the REJA, should seriously consider filing that additional Statement of Claim just to be on the safe side. Otherwise, they run the risk of having no remedy at all.