Case of the Day: Tettamanti v. Opcion SA
Posted on July 26, 2011
The case of the day is Tettamanti v. Opcion SA (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011). Opcion SA had sued Enrique Tettamanti and Maria Cristina Calvo in Argentina on a promissory note, and it obtained a judgment for damages from the Argentine court. Opcion sued Tettamanti and Calvo in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court seeking recognition and enforcement of the judgment, and it obtained a Florida judgment for $236,900 against the two. Tettamanti and Calvo appealed, but the District Court of Appeal affirmed in a brief per curiam order. While the appeal was pending, Tettamanti and Calvo obtained a stay of enforcement of the Florida judgment from the Circuit Court, but the District Court of Appeal vacated the stay, holding that the statute that the lower court had cited, Fla. Stat. § 55.607, applied only if an appeal was pending in the foreign court, or if a stay had been obtained from that court, not where an appeal was pending from the Florida judgment recognizing the foreign judgment.
Tettamanti and Calvo then returned to the Circuit Court and moved to vacate the judgment “on the basis of a 2010 Argentine court order and letters rogatory (filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida)” allegedly establishing that the underlying lawsuit in Argentina was not yet concluded.” This appears to be a reference to this application for judicial assistance, in which Tettamanti, armed with a letter rogatory from the Argentine court, apparently sought to take evidence from the Circuit Court judge! Tettamanti and Calvo also argued that Opcion had obtained the Argentine judgment by fraud and that the Florida judgment improperly converted the judgment amount from pesos to dollars at a rate of one to one. The Circuit Court denied the motion.
The District Court of Appeal affirmed. On the issue of the new letter rogatory, it held that the letter rogatory neither stayed the Argentine judgment nor directed Opcion to cease recognition and enforcement efforts in Florida. On the issue of fraud, the court held that Tettamanti and Calvo were making arguments that had already been resolved against them in the Argente proceedings. Finally, the court rejected the currency conversion argument, noting that the debt had originally been incurred in dollars; that the Argentine court had converted it into pesos at a one-to-one rate, which was the then-prevailing rate, and that it was appropriate to restore the judgment to the original currency of the debt.
The first of the three points seems clearly correct. The court was, maybe, a bit too cursory in its handling of the second and third points. By statute, judgments obtained by fraud need not be recognized. The cases generally hold that “fraud”, in this context, means fraud on the court, not a question of fraud that could have been litigated in the foreign proceeding. See, e.g., Soc’y of Lloyd’s v. Hamilton, 501 F.Supp.2d 248 (D. Mass. 2007); Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce v. Saxony Carpet Co., 899 F.Supp. 1248 (S.D.N.Y. 1995), aff’d, 104 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 1996). It seems that the Florida court got this right, though, as there is no hint in the opinion of a claim of fraud on the court.
I am not sure the court got the currency conversion question right. The court’s reasoning, without any citations, seems hazy. The Florida court’s judgment was not on the underlying debt, but on the Argentine judgment. The usual rule is that the US court should convert the currency of the foreign judgment to dollars as of the date of the US judgment. See Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 101 cmt. d & § 144 cmt. g. So it may have been a mistake even to consider the fact that the underlying debt was dollar-denominated.