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WATKINS v. CONWAY

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: December 5, 1966.

WATKINS
v.
CONWAY

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 385 U.S. Page 188]

 This litigation began when appellant Watkins brought a tort action against Conway in a circuit court of Florida. On October 5, 1955, that court rendered a $25,000 judgment for appellant. Five years and one day later, appellant sued upon this judgment in a superior court of Georgia. Appellee raised § 3-701 of the Georgia Code as a bar to the proceeding:

"Suits upon foreign judgments. -- All suits upon judgments obtained out of this State shall be brought within five years after such judgments shall have been obtained."

[ 385 U.S. Page 189]

     The Georgia trial court gave summary judgment for appellee. In so doing, it rejected appellant's contention that § 3-701, when read against the longer limitation period on domestic judgments set forth in Ga. Code §§ 110-1001, 110-1002 (1935), was inconsistent with the Full Faith and Credit and Equal Protection Clauses of the Federal Constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed, also rejecting appellant's constitutional challenge to § 3-701. 221 Ga. 374, 144 S. E. 2d 721 (1965). We noted probable jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2). 383 U.S. 941 (1966).

Although appellant lays his claim under two constitutional provisions, in reality his complaint is simply that Georgia has drawn an impermissible distinction between foreign and domestic judgments. He argues that the statute is understandable solely as a reflection of Georgia's desire to handicap out-of-state judgment creditors. If appellant's analysis of the purpose and effect of the statute were correct, we might well agree that it violates the Federal Constitution. For the decisions of this Court which appellee relies upon do not justify the discriminatory application of a statute of limitations to foreign actions.*fn1

But the interpretation which the Georgia courts have given § 3-701 convinces us that appellant has misconstrued it. The statute bars suits on foreign judgments only if the plaintiff cannot revive his judgment in the State where it was originally obtained. For the relevant date in applying § 3-701 is not the date of the original judgment, but rather it is the date of the latest revival of the judgment. Fagan v. Bently, 32 Ga. 534 (1861); Baty v. Holston, 108 Ga. App. 359, 133 S. E. 2d 107 (1963). In the case at bar, for example, all appellant

[ 385 U.S. Page 190]

     need do is return to Florida and revive his judgment.*fn2 He can then come back to Georgia within five years and file suit free of the limitations of § 3-701.

It can be seen, therefore, that the Georgia statute has not discriminated against the judgment from Florida. Instead, it has focused on the law of that State. If Florida had a statute of limitations of five years or less

[ 385 U.S. Page 191]

     on its own judgments, the appellant would not be able to recover here.*fn3 But this disability would flow from the conclusion of the Florida Legislature that suits on Florida judgments should be barred after that period.*fn4 Georgia's construction of § 3-701 would merely honor and give effect to that conclusion. Thus, full faith and credit is insured, rather than denied, the law of the judgment State. Similarly, there is no denial of equal protection in a scheme that relies upon the judgment State's view of the validity of its own judgments. Such a scheme hardly reflects invidious discrimination.

Affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS dissents.

Disposition

221 Ga. 374, 144 S. E. 2d 721, affirmed.


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