Home THE CADLE COMPANY [Note 1] v. JAMES J. LYONS, JR.

2017 Mass. App. Div. 56

December 16, 2016 - February 24, 2017

Appellate Division Northern District

Court Below: District Court, Lawrence Division

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

Mark H. Bluver for the plaintiff.

James J. Lyons, Jr., pro se.


COVEN, P.J. This appeal arises from the allowance of a motion for summary judgment in favor of The Cadle Company to enforce a judgment of $64,000 against James J. Lyons, Jr.

In 1992, a judgment entered in Suffolk Superior Court in favor of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC") as receiver for Coolidge Bank & Trust Company against James J. Lyons, Jr. for $64,000. In 1998, the FDIC assigned the judgment to Ninth RMA Partners L.P. for "the sum of ten dollars ($10.00) and other valuable consideration." The following year, Ninth RMA Partners, L.P. assigned "all right, title, and interest" in the judgment to The Cadle Company of Newton Falls, Ohio for "value received." In July, 1999, The Cadle Company brought a motion in Suffolk Superior Court to substitute itself as the plaintiff in the underlying case under Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 25(c). The Superior Court judge denied that motion, reasoning that because judgment had already entered in the case in 1992, the case was closed. [Note 2] The Cadle Company then filed a complaint for contempt in its own name in Suffolk Superior Court against Bernadette Lyons to enforce the judgment. The Superior Court judge dismissed that complaint, holding that because The Cadle Company was never entered as a plaintiff in the matter, it was not the "judgment creditor or his successor in interest" and could not complain for contempt in aid of the judgment or execution, citing Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 69.

Nearly fourteen years after its complaint for contempt was dismissed, in 2013, The Cadle Company successfully moved to renew the judgment in Suffolk Superior Court, rebutting a statutory presumption of payment after twenty years. The court in that matter found that the judgment had not been paid and was therefore still susceptible to enforcement by supplementary process, subject to any defenses that the defendant might raise as a matter of law.

The Cadle Company then brought a complaint in District Court to enforce the judgment. The court denied Lyons' motion to dismiss, and later granted summary

Page 57

judgment for The Cadle Company. Lyons argues that because the Suffolk Superior Court denied The Cadle Company's motion to substitute itself as plaintiff in 1999, The Cadle Company is not now and never was the proper plaintiff in the underlying action and, therefore, its complaint should have been dismissed.

The issue presented is, essentially, whether the assignee of a judgment must be substituted as a party plaintiff in the underlying case in order to bring suit to enforce it. When a judgment is assigned in total, the assignee becomes the only real party in interest. J.W. Smith and H.B. Zobel, Rules Practice §17.5, at 290 (2d ed. 2006); M.G. Perlin and S.H. Blum, Procedural Forms Annotated §60:1, at 2-4 (6th ed. 2009). An assignee under a written assignment may bring an action in its own name or in the name of the assignor. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 17; Henri Peladeau, Lte. v. Fred Gillespie Lumber Co., 285 Mass. 10 , 14 (1933). "When an order is made in favor of a person who is not a party to the action, he may enforce obedience to the order by the same process as if he were a party...." Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 71. It is at the trial court's discretion whether to allow or deny a motion to substitute parties after a judgment has been entered. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 25(c); G.L.c. 231, §51; Bay Colony Constr. Co. v. Town of Norwell, 5 Mass. App. Ct. 801 (1977).

In the case at hand, the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in 1999 when it denied The Cadle Company's motion to enter the proceeding as a plaintiff because, after final judgment enters, it is within the court's discretion to allow or deny a motion to substitute parties. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 25(c); Henri Peladeau, Lte., supra. However, as an assignee, The Cadle Company could still bring an action to enforce the judgment in the name of the assignor, so it is not strictly necessary that it be entered as the plaintiff in the underlying case. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 17. Furthermore, The Cadle Company is the only real party in interest in this case because the previous successor in interest assigned it the judgment in its entirety. J.W. Smith and H.B. Zobel, supra; M.G. Perlin and S.H. Blum, supra. As such, The Cadle Company is the only party with any standing to bring an action to enforce the judgment. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 17.

Because The Cadle Company is the only real party in interest in the case, and because, as an assignee, it has the option to bring an action in its own name or in the name of the assignor, it is not necessary for The Cadle Company to have been substituted as plaintiff in the underlying case in order for it to bring an action on the judgment now. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 17. At a more basic level, The Cadle Company is permitted to bring an action because it owns a right to the value of the judgment that remains unpaid. [Note 3]

It is not contested that The Cadle Company was properly assigned the judgment against James J. Lyons, Jr. in 1999. All that is contested is whether The Cadle Company may now bring an action to enforce that judgment. The fact that the judgment was assigned does not put its existence or validity into question any more than it would

Page 58

be if the original creditor were still pursuing it. Henri Peladeau, Lte., supra at 13-14 (noting that "it is a general principle governing the rights of an assignee ... that the assignee ought to be in as good but in no better position than his assignor would have been ..., and that the debtor ought to be in no worse position than if his original creditor were seeking to enforce his claim in his own right"). The discretionary procedural decision of the Superior Court in 1999 does not affect this basic principle. The Cadle Company, according to the undisputed record, owns at least an equitable interest in the 1992 judgment, which remains unpaid. The Cadle Company is therefore permitted to have that interest protected by the court. Dunn v. Snell, 15 Mass. 481 , 485 (1819).

Defendant's appeal is dismissed.


FOOTNOTES

[Note 1] As successor in interest to Coolidge Bank & Trust Company.

[Note 2] The general rule is that a case is not amended after final judgment, unless there is a motion to alter, set aside, or vacate the judgment pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 59(e), or 60(b), because otherwise there is nothing of the case left to amend. Geofredo v. Starwood Capital Group, LLC, 2011 Mass. App. Div. 221 , 222.

[Note 3] At common law, the assignee of a judgment holds an equitable title to its value. Brazill v. Green, 236 Mass. 93 , 97 (1920); Dunn v. Snell, 15 Mass. 481 , 484 (1819). See also Baker v. Wood, 157 U.S. 212, 216 (1895); Rhodes v. Farmer, 58 U.S. 464, 467-468 (1855). The modern rule is more flexible, so that the assignee can bring an action in the name of the assignor or in its own name to collect on the debt. Mass. R. Civ. P., Rule 17.