Florida law provides numerous mechanisms that judgment creditors use to obtain financial information from judgment debtors so that judgment creditors can execute on judgments. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.977 requires judgment debtors to complete a Fact Information Sheet, which provides a brief overview of judgment debtors’ financial information.
Many judgment debtors disregard the Fact Information Sheet and refuse to complete them. Aggressive attorneys, after consulting with their clients, may take it a step further and seek to hold judgment debtors in contempt of court for failure to complete a Fact Information Sheet.
In Hampton Manor, Inc., v. Fortner, 141 So. 3d 1260 (5th DCA 2014), the judgment creditor sought to hold the judgment debtor in civil contempt of court for failure to complete a Fact Information Sheet, and the trial judge responded by sentencing the chief executive officer (CEO) of a corporation to 15 days of hard time in the Marion County Jail. Id. at 1261.
The trial judge further added a purge provision where the CEO could purge the contempt order by paying a $4,000.00 fine and completing a Fact Information Sheet. Id. While the appellate court did not take issue with sentencing the CEO to 15 days in the Marion County Jail, the appellate court found that the $4,000.00 fine was a coercive action and therefore unconstitutional. Id. at 1262. To understand why the appellate court ruled in this manner, one should understand Florida’s civil contempt laws.
Florida judges can hold a person in either civil contempt or criminal contempt. “The goal of civil contempt is remedial and for the benefit of the complainant, whereas the goal of criminal contempt is to vindicate the authority of the court and or otherwise punish for conduct offensive to the public.” Levey v. D’Angelo, 819 So. 2d 864, 867 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002)(citing Parisi v. Broward County, 769 So. 2d 359, 364 (Fla. 2000).
“A civil contempt order must contain a specific purge provision that adequately informs the contemnor what he or she must do to purge the contempt.” Lanza v. Lanza, 804 So. 2d 408, 409 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001). When setting a fine, “the trial court must both consider the financial resources of the contemnor before assessing the amount of the sanction and include a purge provision.” Parisin, 769 So. 2d at 364.
Going back to Fortner, while the appellate court found that the trial court could impose the $4,000.00 fine as a sanction against the CEO, the trial court imposed the fine without considering the financial resources of the CEO. Had the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing and made findings that the CEO had the means to purge the contempt order by paying the $4,000.00 fine, the contempt order would have been affirmed on appeal.
Depending on the needs and wants of a particular client, there are many mechanisms that Florida collections attorneys can use to execute on judgments. Forcing judgment debtors to complete Fact Information Sheets gives judgment creditors important information about the judgment debtors’ financial ability to satisfy judgments without having to go through the expense of having to take depositions and/or engage in post-judgment discovery.
Keep in mind that including a Fact Information Sheet within a judgment is at the discretion of the creditor, so be sure that your legal counsel is taking this vital step whenever a judgment is entered in your behalf. Without it, you are still entitled to post-judgment discovery, but as you can see, including it is a powerful tool.
Founded in 1997, Gill Law Firm represents small, medium and large corporations in commercial debt recovery, small business and nonprofit startups throughout the state of Florida. To find out how the firm may help your company, please contact A. Wayne Gill, Esq. via email at email@example.com or by phone at (561) 454-0301.