State of the Netherlands v. MD Helicopters Inc. (12/30/2020)

January 22, 2021

Arizona Supreme Court holds that a foreign country’s case law can satisfy Arizona’s reciprocity requirement for the recognition of foreign judgments.

A Dutch court entered a monetary judgment against the Netherlands’ National Police Services industry and a private helicopter company.  The Netherlands, as an assignee of the judgment, filed a lawsuit in an Arizona trial court seeking recognition of the Dutch judgment under Arizona’s version of the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act.  A.R.S. §§ 12-3251 to -3254.  Under that statute, a party cannot obtain recognition of a foreign judgment if it “originates from a foreign country that has not adopted or enacted a reciprocal law related to foreign-country money judgments that is similar to this chapter.”  A.R.S. 12-3252(B)(2).

In the trial court and the court of appeals, the helicopter company argued that Arizona law prevents the foreign country from seeking recognition of the judgment in Arizona courts because the Netherlands has no legislative act or statute like the Arizona Act.  Both the trial court and the court of appeals rejected that argument.  The court of appeals explained that the Netherlands’ code of civil procedure and court decisions applying it recognize foreign-country money judgments.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed.  It explained that the phrase “a reciprocal law” in the statute encompasses not just legislatively enacted statutes, but also the foreign country’s case law.  The Court explained that the legislature did not limit the phrase “law” to a legislative act or treaty.  The Court also noted that the purpose behind section 12-3252(B)(2) is to recognize judgments from a foreign country where that country would also recognize judgments from Arizona.  Limiting section 12-3252(B)(2) to legislative acts, as the helicopter company urged, would be at odds with that purpose. 

Justice Timmer authored the opinion of the Court.  Justice Montgomery, joined by Justice Bolick, concurred in part and dissented in part.