Attacking Cognovit Judgments in Ohio

A trial court's jurisdiction (the right to hear the case) over cognovit notes is governed by R.C. 2323.12 and 2323.13, and these statutory requirements must be met in order for a valid judgment to be granted upon the note, or for a court to have subject-matter jurisdiction over it. Since a defendant does not have the chance to be heard in the cognovit proceedings and gives up various rights and defenses normally afforded to him, Ohio law provides that cognovit judgments must be strictly construed and applied. In addition, to support a judgment on the note, the terms must be facially sufficient to support judgment. In order for a cognovit note to be valid, the terms of the note itself must be sufficient to facially support the judgment for which confession is made.
R.C. §2323.13(A) provides in pertinent part: "*** Notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, if the maker *** resides within the territorial jurisdiction of a municipal court *** or signed the warrant of attorney authorizing confession of judgment in such territory, judgment on such warrant of attorney shall be confessed in a municipal court having jurisdiction in such territory, provided the court has jurisdiction over the subject matter; otherwise, judgment may be confessed in any court in the county where the maker *** resides or signed the warrant of attorney. ***" (emphasis added)
It is clear that a warrant of attorney confessing judgment must be filed in the county where the maker resides or the county where the warrant of attorney was signed. It is also clear that the court must find that jurisdiction exists from the face of the note itself.
What this means is that the note must clearly indicate where the maker resides or where the note is executed. If the note itself does not establish either of those two elements necessary to confer the court with subject matter jurisdiction required to enforce a cognovit note, then the note is invalid and the judgment is void ab initio. (i.e. treated as invalid from the outset).
A plaintiff's argument that it may have been the "parties' intention" to have the matter adjudicated in a particular jurisdiction is irrelevant and contrary to Ohio law. Any attempt to designate a particular county as the venue for litigation of the Note does not comply with the requirements, as the attempt to designate the forum does not comply with the requirements of R.C. §2323.13(A).
There are other issues that can invalidate a cognovit judgment as well so it is imperative to seek the advice of a skilled attorney in this specialized area of the law.


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