Redefining "Original Judgment"
Roxas v. Marcos (HSC August 10, 2009)
Background. In 1971, Roxas found the famed "Yamashita Treasure," a gold bullion buried by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines during World War Two. Ferdinand Marcos' men stole the treasure, arrested Roxas, and tortured him. Roxas transferred his interest in the treasure to the Golden Budha Corporation. In 1988, Roxas and Golden Budha sued Ferdinand for false imprisonment and battery. After Ferdinand died, the parties stipulated to substitute Imelda Marcos, his wife. The jury found against Ferdinand on all counts, but not against Imelda in her personal capacity.
The circuit court entered judgment on August 28, 1996. The judgment was amended on October 21, 1996 and both parties appealed. The HSC reversed and vacated part of the amended judgment in 1998, but "[i]n all other respects, the circuit court's amended judgment is affirmed." Roxas v. Marcos, 89 Hawai'i 91, 157, 969 P.2d 1209, 1275 (1998). On remand, the circuit court entered a 2d amended judgment and ordered the judgment to be entered nunc pro tunc as of October 21, 1996. For various reasons, the circuit court had to enter a 3d amended judgment in 2000 and again entered it nunc pro tunc as of October 21, 1996. The 4th amended judgment was entered on September 6, 2001 and it was entered nunc pro tunc as of October 21, 1996. Roxas' estate (Roxas had been dead already) filed motions to extend the 2d and 4th amended judgments for another ten years. This extension was contested and was the only point on appeal.
What is an "Original Judgment"? Unless extended, judgments and decrees are presumed paid and discharged ten years after the judgment was rendered, but "[n]o extension of a judgment or decree shall be granted unless the extension is sought within ten years of the date of the original judgment or decree was rendered. HRS § 675-5. Furthermore, the court cannot extend a judgment "beyond twenty years from the date of the original judgment or decree." Id. The HSC first turned to the plain language of HRS § 657-5. Carlisle v. One Boat, 119 Hawai'i 245, 256, 195 P.3d 1177, 1188 (2008). According to the HSC, it is unclear what "original judgment" means and when a "term is not statutorily defined, this court may resort to legal or other well accepted dictionaries as one way to determine its ordinary meaning." Gillian v. Gov't Employees Ins. Co., 119 Hawai'i 109, 115, 194 P.3d 1071, 1077 (2008).
The Plain Language Renders an Absurd and Unjust Result and it's Ambiguous. The HSC noted that the plain and literal language of the term "original judgment" meant the first judgment rendered by the court. Unlike the ICA, however, the HSC concluded that the literal application of the statute lead to absurd and unjust results. See State v. Lagat, 97 Hawai'i 492, 499, 40 P.3d 894, 901 (2002). According to the HSC, it would be absurd because the statute of limitations would apply to simply the first judgment, even if that first judgment did not resolve any claims ruled upon by a later judgment. Thus, it would arbitrarily confer more rights on the party who obtained that first judgment than other parties. Moreover, the HSC noted that a "judgment" must be construed as a valid one. That means that when the first judgment has been vacated or reversed, which happened here, it cannot be considered valid and should not be considered the "original judgment."
"Original Judgment" is not the first one, but the first one that Creates Rights and Responsibilities. The HSC rejected the ICA's conclusion that the term "original judgment" was clear and unambiguous. Gillian v. Gov't Employees Ins. Co., 119 Hawai'i at 117, 194 P.3d at 1079 ("statute is ambiguous if it is capable of being understood by reasonably well-informed people in two or more different senses."). When a statute is ambiguous, the court can turn to extrinsic aids, like legislative history and the law may be construed in pari materia. In re Water Application Permits, 94 Hawai'i 97, 144, 9 P.3d 409, 456 (2000).
The HSC examined the legislative history and concluded that the purpose of HRS § 657-5 is to prevent a party from trying to extend a judgment more than 10 years after the judgment was entered. According to the HSC, a judgment is rendered when the parties (1) are aware of their rights and responsibilities created by the judgment and (2) the parties can enforce these rights. This brought it back to the initial problem: what does "original judgment" mean? The HSC held that based on the construction of similar statutes of limitations in HRS chapter 657, the "original judgment" is "the judgment that creates the rights and responsibilities that the moving party is seeking to enforce and extend."
A new Frontier of Problems. Whether a judgment is the "original" one depends entirely on the party seeking the extension under HRS § 657-5. It means that, as the HSC recognized in a footnote, that there can be more than one "original judgment." It also means that an amended judgment may be the "original" one depending on the kind of amendment. When the amendment is "material and substantial" so that it creates the rights that the party wants to extend, the ten-year clock under HRS § 657-5 begins at the time of the amendment because the rights did not exist before it. See, e.g., Poe v. Hawai'i Labor Relations Bd., 98 Hawai'i 416, 418, 49 P.3d 382, 384 (2002).
Nunc pro tunc Orders may be "Original Judgments" too. The HSC held that a judgment entered nunc pro tunc may be the "original judgment" as long as it changed a prior order in a material or substantial way. It does not otherwise change the date of the "original judgment." Rather, if the nunc pro tunc order created rights or responsibilities that were not there before, then it becomes the "original judgment." In this case, the 4th amended judgment added a simple paragraph: "the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay and expressly directs for the entry of judgment." This, according to the HSC, is not a material or substantial change, so the "original judgment" for Roxas was the 3d amended judgment.
The circuit court, however, extended 2d amended judgment until October 19, 2019 and the 4th amended judgment to September 5, 2021. The first, according to the HSC, was fine. The other extension, however, was improper. The date the "original judgment" was entered for the 4th amended judgment was on June 26, 2000. A judgment cannot be extended beyond twenty years. HRS § 657-5 and so the circuit court erred in extending the judgment beyond June 25, 2020.