2017 Mass. App. Div. 156

August 18, 2017 - October 30, 2017

Appellate Division Northern District

Court Below: District Court, Waltham Division

Present: Coven, P.J., Crane & Nestor, JJ.

Robert E. Girvan, III and Gary M. Weiner for the plaintiff.

Kevin M. Dwyer, Jr. for the defendant.

CRANE, J. The issue presented in this appeal is whether a judgment expires and is void twenty years after it was issued or remains in force but presumptively satisfied. Plaintiff The Cadle Company ("Cadle") appeals because the trial court granted a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4) in the original action and ruled, "After full consideration of the written submissions of the parties and the arguments made during a hearing . . ., the court finds that the 1/5/96 judgment became void on 1/5/16 due to the passage of 20 years . . . ."

The current appeal is pursuant to Dist./Mun. Cts. R. A. D. A. 8B, and the parties have agreed to the following facts, which are summarized as follows.

On January 5, 1996, Cadle obtained a judgment against defendant Carolyn Scarlett ("Scarlett") in the amount of $3,836.87 in the Waltham District Court ("original action"). It is the position of Cadle that the judgment went unsatisfied, and Cadle commenced a new action in the same court on November 1, 2016 ("collection action"). Scarlett filed a motion to dismiss the collection action and a motion for relief from judgment in the original action. On January 13, 2017, a hearing was conducted on the motion for relief from judgment. On January 17, 2017, the court allowed the motion for relief from judgment in the original action for the reasons previously recited. It took no action on the motion to dismiss in the collection action. Cadle has appealed.

Cadle contends that the court committed an error of law that must be reversed when it granted relief from judgment in the original action on these grounds. Specifically, it argues that a judgment does not expire after twenty years. Instead, it asserts G.L. c. 260, § 20 creates a rebuttable presumption of satisfaction of the judgment that may be overcome. Scarlett responds that the trial court was correct in granting relief from judgment in the original action because the transcript of the hearing demonstrates that notwithstanding the grounds recited in his ruling on the motion for relief from judgment, the motion judge appropriately analyzed whether Cadle overcame the presumption of satisfaction of the original judgment before allowing the motion based upon the materials submitted and the arguments of counsel.

This argument fails because the trial judge recited that his reason for allowing the motion for relief from judgment was because the judgment was void on the twentieth anniversary of its issuance and did not mention whether the presumption of payment was rebutted or considered. The provisions of G.L. c. 260, § 20 create a rebuttable presumption of satisfaction of a judgment after twenty years elapses. They do not make the judgment void. Brown v. Greenlow, 330 Mass. 88, 90 (1953); Lombardi v.

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Lombardi, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 407, 414 (2007). The motion judge recited that he allowed the motion because the judgment was void. This was consistent with Scarlett's argument to him based upon the language in the writ of execution to the effect that it expires after twenty years elapses. The expiration of the execution does not affect the vitality of the judgment. It remains in force unless satisfied. There is no indication that the motion judge gave any consideration to whether the facts in Cadle's affidavit may have overcome the presumption that the judgment was satisfied.

The only motion that the judge considered was for relief from judgment in the original action. Without objection from the parties, he declined to consider any motions that were pending in the collection action. We note that the issue of whether the presumption of satisfaction of the judgment was rebutted may be more appropriately raised and considered in the collection action, not the original action.

The judgment of dismissal in the original action is vacated, and the matters are returned for further proceedings.