How Does a Writ of Replevin Apply to a Civil Judgment?

If you visit the Utah Courts web page in search of information on how to collect an outstanding judgment in the Beehive State, you’ll find a brief blurb mentioning the writ of replevin. Although most states have made the writ of replevin obsolete for all practical purposes, it still exists. How it applies to a civil judgment depends on the state.

To be clear, filing for a writ of replevin is a separate judicial action. It isn’t necessarily an integral part of collecting a judgment. In an attempt to streamline things and cut down on the number of required hearings for civil litigation, many states have adopted legal means of consolidating all the actions involved in obtaining and collecting a judgment into what is known as a ‘single cause’ action. This generally applies to writs of replevin, though there are exceptions to the rule.

  • What a Writ of Replevin Is

A writ (or order) of replevin is an antiquated legal action designed to recover a piece of property from a defendant, to be held in the custody of the U.S. Marshal, or some other designee, until the dispute between plaintiff and defendant is settled. In nearly every case, the writ of replevin is granted before a judgment is entered.

If you owned a business in Utah and had a dispute with a customer who possesses property you believe should be seized under a writ of replevin, you would file for that writ before you filed the lawsuit against the customer. Writs of replevin are essentially pre-judgment actions. In Utah, they are granted only under the narrowest of circumstances.

  • Legally Entitled to the Asset

There is another condition most states attach to the writ of replevin: the plaintiff must be legally entitled to possession of the asset. Furthermore, the asset must be clearly and legally definable before it can be seized. This prevents plaintiffs from attempting to obtain writs of replevin against ambiguous amounts of cash.

What would qualify as an asset for a writ of replevin? A car would be a good example. Perhaps you sold a used car to your neighbor with the expectation that he would pay you in installments. A failure to pay as agreed indicates that the transaction was not fully completed. You still have a legal interest in that car as long as your neighbor’s debt is outstanding. You might be able to take possession through a writ of replevin prior to suing your neighbor for full payment.

  • Difficult to Obtain

Writs of replevin are difficult to obtain because they are only awarded under very limited circumstances. According to Salt Lake City-based Judgment Collectors, the writs are rarely heard of these days. Most people do not even know about them, and courts are not going out of their way to educate.

Either way, the writ of replevin is governed by specific laws in each state that allows it. If you were planning to file civil litigation against a debtor, looking into the writ of replevin probably wouldn’t be worth your time unless you knew of a specific asset you could claim legal interest in. Even at that, there is no guarantee that a court would grant the writ.

A better option is to simply go through with civil litigation as planned. In the event you win, follow the court’s instructions for discovery and collection. There are other legal avenues you can pursue if the debtor refuses to cooperate after losing the case. Do not bother with a writ of replevin unless you are absolutely sure you can obtain one.