When Will You Hear the Court's Decision?
The court may help you and the defendant reach an agreement at the hearing. If not, the court will decide the case and you will be notified by mail of the decision. (The court usually does not rule on claims at the time of the hearing.) The judgment will not become effective until 20 days after the notice is mailed. The court administrator will tell you the date in this notice. This 20-day period is called the "stay period," and it allows you to appeal or make a motion to vacate the judgment.
What if You Lose?
If either the plaintiff or the defendant is dissatisfied with the judge's decision, the 20-day stay period allows the unhappy party to appeal or bring a motion to vacate the judgment. This is discussed further in the section titled "Removing the Case." The court may also vacate the judgment and order a new hearing if a party that did not appear had a good reason for not appearing. Before it grants a new hearing, the court may require the party who did not appear to pay costs to the other party.
Application for "vacation of judgment" generally must be made within the 20-day stay period. You must show:
- You were not given proper notice of the trial;
- You were mistaken about the time of the trial; or
- You missed the trial for some other valid reason.
The court will only reopen the case if it decides that your absence was unavoidable and unintentional. You will be notified by mail of the new trial date.
How Do You Pay the Judgment?
If you are within the metropolitan counties, make payment directly to the conciliation court by the date the judgment becomes final. The court records will then reflect that payment was made. For Greater Minnesota areas, check with the court administrator for payment guidelines.
How Do You Collect Your Money if You Win?
The conciliation court cannot and will not collect the judgment for you. It may be necessary for you to take additional steps to enforce the judgment. Remember, you may not try to collect the judgment until 20 days after the notice of judgment is postmarked.
In the collection process, you are the judgment creditor, or collector. The person you are trying to collect from is called the debtor, or judgment debtor. The following procedural steps must be taken when a debtor refuses to pay and the location of collectible assets is known. The costs associated with these procedures will be added to the amount of your claim.
- Have the conciliation court judgment transcribed to the district court. Your district court administrator can help you with this.
- File an Affidavit of Identification form with the court administrator. This creates a lien against real estate the debtor owns in the county. If he or she wants to sell any of that property, you might have to be paid first. It also affects the debtor's credit rating.
- If you intend to serve the party with a writ of execution, you must first notify the party. (A writ of execution is an order that enforces the decision of the conciliation court.) Notification must take place at least 10 days before the execution may be served. The sheriff will not accept the first writ of execution without proof that you complied with the 10 day notice.
- Request the court administrator to issue a writ of execution.
- If you know where the party banks or works, deliver the writ of execution to the sheriff's office with a specific list of property or bank accounts that belong to the debtor or the name of the debtor's employer. (Some assets are exempt from collection.) With sufficient information and the writ of execution, the sheriff can "levy" the debtor's property. This means the sheriff will actually take the items you have identified. However, the sheriff cannot break into the debtor's home to collect an item subject to levy. If the sheriff is unable to levy the assets within 180 days after the sheriff receives the writ, the writ will be returned to you "unsatisfied."
- If you are unable to determine what assets the debtor owns, request the court administrator to issue an order for disclosure. This order requires the debtor to reveal all non-exempt property and financial information to you within 10 days.
- If the debtor fails to respond, ask the court to issue an order to show cause. This requires the judgment debtor to appear in court and explain why the order for disclosure was disobeyed.
Despite all of these legal actions, there will still be some cases where the debtor is "judgment proof." The debtor may possess only minimum viable assets and may be unemployed with public assistance as the only source of income. In that case, there is little you can do. However, a conciliation court judgment is valid for 10 years. Over that time, a person's financial circumstances will often change.