You won your lawsuit, and now you want to be paid. But how do you get an unwilling defendant to cough up the cash? You have several options. Part I of this series discussed collecting a money judgment through the garnishment process. This article explains a second option: conducting a sheriff’s sale of the defendant’s real or personal property in order to be made whole.
A sheriff’s sale occurs when the sheriff seizes the defendant’s real or personal property and sells the property at a public sale. Once the property is sold, the proceeds may go toward satisfying your judgment. While a sheriff’s sale can be confusing, a basic understanding of the process can help you avoid pitfalls and obtain your money faster.
The sheriff’s sale process begins at the Prothonotary’s office. Upon a plaintiff’s request, the prothonotary will issue a writ of execution to direct the local sheriff to levy, i.e. itemize and hold, the defendant’s property. The Prothonotary then delivers the writ to the sheriff to enforce the levy.
At this point, the process differs according to whether the defendant’s real or personal property is to be seized and sold. When personal property is involved, the sheriff will do an inventory of the property and estimate the value of the defendant’s belongings. This seizure may or may not, however, result in the belongings being physically removed from the premises. Next, the sheriff will post handbills at least six days before the sale is held to notify both the defendant and the public of the sheriff’s sale. When the sale occurs, the public, including the plaintiff, has the opportunity to bid on the inventoried property.
The process for selling real property is bit more cumbersome. If a defendant owns real estate within the county where the judgment is indexed, a lien is automatically placed on that real estate when the judgment is entered. Before pursuing a sale of the real estate, however, the plaintiff must find, or at least attempt to find, every person who has an interest in the property. The plaintiff then signs an affidavit swearing that this duty is complete and delivers the affidavit to the sheriff, along with the writ of execution. Afterward, the sheriff serves the defendant and anyone else with an interest in the property with written notice of the impending sale. To notify the public of the sale, the sheriff posts handbills thirty days before the sale is to be held. The real property is then sold at a public sale, just as with personal property.
Five days after the sale of personal property and thirty days after the sale of real property, the sheriff proposes a payment plan to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff does not contest the payment plan within ten days, the sheriff will make payments as set forth in the schedule. Any fees that the plaintiff advanced to cover the costs of the sheriff’s sale are paid before the payment plan is implemented. If the sheriff’s sale did not produce sufficient funds to cover the judgment and the defendant has no more property to sell, then the plaintiff may pursue a deficiency judgment against the defendant.
Dana W. Chilson is the chair of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Insurance Group, as well as a member of the Public Sector, Litigation, Financial Services, and Injunction groups. She can be reached at 717-237-5457 or email@example.com.