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A plaintiff who prevails in his civil court action for damages against a defendant is called a judgment creditor. The plaintiff is characterized as a creditor because the defendant is legally obligated by order of the court, to pay the plaintiff any damages awarded. In order to obtain the status of judgment creditor, a plaintiff must first obtain a judgment issued by a court of competent jurisdiction. Once he secures such a judgment from the court, a plaintiff can commence any of the post-judgment collection procedures authorized by law.
After the plaintiff has been awarded a judgment, the court in which the action was heard will generally issue an entry of judgment on its docket. In order to be officially classified as a judgment creditor, once the judgment is officially recorded, the plaintiff must make a request for an execution. This is an official document that recognizes the judgment creditor as a plaintiff, and, as such, entitles him to specific financial damages, which are also listed in this document. The defendant in this type of case is known as the judgment debtor.
A judgment creditor can seek to attach the assets or bank accounts of a judgment debtor, garnish his wages, or put a lien on any real estate he owns. In most jurisdictions, a judgment creditor needs to obtain an execution on the judgment before he can initiate such post-judgment attachment remedies. The act of using the execution as a basis to attach the assets of a judgment debtor is commonly referred to as levying on the execution.
A lien against a judgment debtor’s real property must be recorded in the local registry of deeds in which the property of the debtor is located. The lien acts as a cloud, or defect, on the title to the property. Before the property can be sold or freely transferred, the lien must first be dissolved by paying off the amount of the judgment. The claims of a judgment creditor have priority over the claims of unsecured creditors for purposes of disposition of the assets of a debtor in bankruptcy. In addition, if the judgment obtained by the plaintiff was for fraudulent activity on the part of the defendant, the debt owed may come within one of the exceptions to discharge of debts under the provisions of the bankruptcy code.
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