Tennessee Supreme Court Addresses Subject-Matter Jurisdiction to Enroll and Enforce Orders from Another State: New v. Dumitrache

July 8, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Father and Mother divorced in Texas. After the divorce, Mother and their minor child moved to Tennessee, and Father moved to Mississippi.

Seven years later, a Tennessee court granted Mother and their minor child an order of protection against Father that prohibited him from contacting them.

Tennessee foreign judgmentForty-two days later, Father petitioned a Tennessee court to enroll the Texas divorce decree to “resolve the conflict” between the order of protection and the Texas decree as it relates to Father’s parenting time. Specifically, Father asked the Tennessee court to “set reasonable parameters” for exercising his parenting time.

Mother moved to dismiss Father’s petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

After a hearing, the trial court found Father’s petition was “fatally deficient” and incomplete because it was missing page five of the 52-page Texas order. Because the Texas order was incomplete, the Tennessee court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm it. Father’s action was dismissed.

Father appealed

On Appeal: The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

The U.S. Constitution requires that each state give full faith and credit to the judicial proceedings of every other state. Tennessee’s Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA) provides a streamlined process to enroll and enforce orders from other states.

Enrollment, also known as recognition, is a condition precedent to a judgment’s enforcement. Enrollment requires filing an authenticated copy of another state’s order with the clerk of the Tennessee court. A judgment from another state filed in this way has the same effect as an order from a Tennessee court and may be enforced or satisfied as if it were an order of the Tennessee court.

The Supreme Court found Father’s failure to follow the enrollment process deprived Tennessee courts of jurisdiction:

Here, Father failed to comply with the straightforward requirements for enrollment. Father never filed a copy of the Texas judgment in the [Tennessee] clerk’s office. Instead, Father attached what he described as a copy of the Texas decree to his petition, but the copy was incomplete, lacking page five of the 52-page decree. Father, therefore, failed to provide a copy of the decree he sought to enroll, and this omission deprived the [Tennessee] court of authority to act on Father’s request.

* * * * *

We emphasize that not every instance of noncompliance with the UEFJA will deprive a [Tennessee] court of subject-matter jurisdiction. This case does not, however, involve mere omissions from a petition[.] Here, Father failed to provide a complete copy of the foreign decree. As such, Father failed to fulfill the first essential step necessary to invoke the jurisdiction conferred by the UEFJA. The [Tennessee] court correctly dismissed the matter without prejudice.

K.O.’s Comment: The Supreme Court also holds that

  • Tennessee law permits Mother to recover her attorney’s fees after successfully defending the order of protection;
  • an order of protection issued by a general sessions court must be appealed to a circuit or chancery court within 10 days; and
  • writs of error are obsolete and are no longer a viable method of appealing a general sessions court’s judgment.

New v. Dumitrache (Tennessee Supreme Court, June 29, 2020).

Tennessee Supreme Court Addresses Subject-Matter Jurisdiction to Enroll and Enforce Orders from Another State: New v. Dumitrache was last modified: July 5th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

Leave a Comment