enforcement of foreign judgments in mexico:
A brief introduction

By Alejandro Osuna


A few years ago, I was asked to a look at the possibility of enforcing a U.S. Judgment derived from a verbal Joint Venture between a Mexican National and a Citizen of the United States. Unfortunately, I had to break the bad news to the US lawyer: The Judgment was unenforceable. The problem was an issue of jurisdiction --in my opinion, the action was in personam, and therefore, Mexican Procedural Law provides that in cases like these, the action needs to be brought before the courts with jurisdiction, which is either the domicile of the defendant or the place where the contract was performed or should have been performed. There was no part of the contract that had to be performed in the U.S.

Because there was no written contract, there was obviously no choice of court agreement designating U.S. Courts as those with jurisdiction over the case. Under Mexican law, parties to a contract can validly submit to a foreign court, provided that the clause designates a Court where either one of the parties has its' domicile, or where the contract is to be performed. The clause must also include language from the parties waiving their right to appear before any other forum.

Another big issue was the fact that the Plaintiff had not served Defendant in Mexico in a manner consistent with local laws, nor under the Hague Service Convention, or the Interamerican Convention on service of Process. They had sent a US process server across the border to hand-deliver the complaint, a method that in my experience usually ends with a judgment that cannot be enforced. In my experience, The only way I have seen this issue overcome, is when the defendant appears before the US court with a response to the complaint, without contesting jurisdiction.

Prepare if you Expect to Enforce your Judgment in Mexico

What should you look for when suing a Mexican Plaintiff? Because Mexico has 32 States, Mexico City (formerly known as the Federal District), each with its own Procedural Codes, in addition to a Federal Code of Procedures, as well as specific provisions in the Commerce Code addressing the issue of enforcement of foreign judgments. I will discuss the rules based on the general principles found in these statutes.

Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction....

Yes. It may seem obvious, but I've seen many cases where the last thing the US lawyer looked at was whether the jurisdiction the US Court had was one that Mexican Courts consider adequate. Under Mexican rules of procedure, a Court may have jurisdiction in the place where performance was due under a contract, thus excluding tort cases because of their extracontractual nature. In these cases --and absent a contract--, you have to sue a Mexican defendant before the Courts in Mexico. Mexican principles of procedural Law state that if the parties make a contract that includes a choice of court clause, it must satisfy the following requirements for it to be effective: 1) the choice of court has to be: a) either the place of business of the Plaintiff or of the defendant b) place of performance of an obligation due under the contract 2) The clause must include a waiver to the parties rights to their court. Absent this "language", you will probably get jurisdiction, but you may not get a judgment that is worth the paper it is written on. Sometimes, --more often that you imagine--, a Mexican defendant will rush to a U.S. and will not make a special appearance, and simply responds. In this case, it would be understood that the defendant has submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. In a case I was involved with to recognize a foreign judgment, the defendant not only appeared after being deffectively summoned, but he filed a counterclaim, making it hard to argue that the US Court had no jurisdiction.

The Checklist: Things that a Mexican Court Will Look at to Determine whether it will or will not enforce a Foreign Judgment.

Under Mexican principles of procedural Law, a Mexican Judge will consider the following:

i) How was the defendant served?

It comes down to a question of international due process. I have seen cases in Tijuana where lawyers in San Diego paid process servers to cross the border into Mexico, and serve defendants. This method is completely invalid under Mexican rules, and in the end, a judgment obtained in this manner may not be enforceable. If you need to serve a Mexican defendant, you can use either The Hague or the Interamerican Conventions on Service of Process, but I strongly suggest you also rely on the Federal Civil Code of Procedures which allows for an attorney in Mexico file the request before the local court to process the Letter Rogatory. Otherwise, you could be looking at a couple of months before you get a lawsuit served.

ii) That the action was not "in rem".

In a nutshell, if the case involved foreclosing on property that was secured in Mexico (mortgage, chattel), it will not be enforced. It's enforcement will also be denied if the foreign judgment declared a person the owner of a piece of property in Mexico. I would note however, that I personally was able to get recognition of a US Judgment issued on a divorce case which granted ownership to a US Citizen of a piece of property in Mexico, in what is known as the "restricted zone", which is the coastal and border regions of Mexico.

iii) That the foreign judge had jurisdiction.

As stated above, the options are a) a contract including a jurisdiction clause with "magic language" or b) performance of the obligation the breach of which was the basis for the action was due in the foreign country. Another option is a defendant voluntarily appearing before a foreign court, failing to contest the foreign courts jurisdiction.

iv) That the lawsuit is not pending in Mexico.

This is the lis pendens exception, and basically, it means that a foreign judgment will not be recognized in Mexico if the same dispute is pending before a Mexican Court. Conclusions First and most importantly, if you plan to file a lawsuit against a Mexican defendant in a foreign court, be sure to get the advice of Local counsel, to be sure that the foreign courts assumption will be recognized in Mexico. Local counsel may be able to provide assistance in effecting service, in a manner that is quicker than going through the diplomatic route, but it the end, it will increase the possibilities of getting your judgment recognized. Our Experience In 2006 we obtained the recognition of a U.S. Judgment rendered in the case Kremen vs Cohen, for the theft of the domain name "sex.com". The judgment was for $65million dollars including punitive damages. The recognition helped us obtain a partial settlement of the case in Mexico.

Are you planning on starting a lawsuit against a Mexican party, or want to enforce a judgment in Mexico? Let us assist you.​