Enforcing US Jury Judgments in France: Avoiding the Pitfall of Motivation

April 04, 2024

Obtaining the exequatur of US judgments in France can be complex, as these rulings might not include a clear statement of reasons, which is one of the conditions required by the French judge for obtaining the exequatur. French judges do, however, accept equivalent documents as proofs, and which can shed light on the motivation for the US judgment. The challenges associated with the exequatur (i.e., the enforcement in France of foreign judgments) of US judgments issued by a civil jury in a jury trial were recently highlighted by a ruling of the Reims Court of Appeal.

In this case[1], a US French champagne distributor sued its French supplier in a federal district court in New York for breach of contract, and a jury ordered the defendant to pay $1.5 million in damages.

The plaintiff then sought to enforce this decision in France, likely wishing to target the defendant's assets in France, where it had its headquarters.

Traditionally, in the absence of an international treaty between France and the country where the judgment was rendered (in this case, the United States), French case law sets three conditions for the recognition of said judgment in France[2]: (1) the foreign judge must have had jurisdiction, (2) the claim before the foreign judge should not be an evasion of law or judgment, i.e., the plaintiff did not knowingly seek to circumvent the law actually applicable in order to obtain a more favorable judgment, and (3) the judgment should be compliant with French international public order, both regarding substantial public order and procedural public order, which implies to respect the right to a fair trial, adversarial proceedings, and the impartiality of judges. This last condition also implies that the foreign decision must state the reasons on which it is based.

In the recent Reims Court of Appeal ruling, this last condition was the issue.

Indeed, the French judge dismissed the supplier's application for exequatur of the US judgment, pointing out that it lacked reasoning.

The plaintiff had only produced (1) the judgment (a single-page document with no statement of reasons) entrenching the jury's verdict, (2) the subsequent amended judgment setting interest for late payment (with no further statement of reasons), (3) the verdict form, and (4) an opinion of the district court judge, subsequent to the initial judgment and dealing only with the question of interest. None of these documents explained how the jury reached its decision.

This was unsatisfactory for the French judge who, even if prohibited from ruling again over the matter, must ensure that the decision for which exequatur is sought has been properly motivated. In the present case, the French judge was unable to understand why an adverse judgment was entered against the defendant by the US court.

This is a sensitive issue, because unlike traditional French judgments, which are issued by a judge and include a statement of reasons within the decision itself, judgments following a jury trial in the United States do not typically include an exegesis of all of the reasons underlying the jury’s verdict, beyond the information set forth in the verdict form itself.

Does this mean that it is impossible to enforce US jury verdicts in France, and that only judgments following a bench trial in the United States—which more closely resemble French judgments—are enforceable? Fortunately, no: French case law has developed the concept of “equivalent documents,” which, in addition to the judgment itself, may contain the reasons for the foreign decision.[3]

In other words, French judges allow the party claiming exequatur to produce additional documents, which serve as an equivalent to the statement of reasons that should have been inserted in the judgment itself.

While there is no precise list of equivalent documents, French judges have admitted the use of the following documents:

  • The writ of summons to the original court and subsequent procedural documents
  • The parties' submissions and arguments
  • Documentation produced before the original court
  • A transcript of the debates and testimonies that took place before the original court
  • The questions asked to the jurors, in order to understand the nature of the issued verdict
  • Where applicable, a copy of previous decisions issued by the original court on the same issue and referred to in the original decision

It is essential for the plaintiff to produce several documents predating the judgment whose enforcement is sought and translated into French.

Plaintiffs also should consider presenting to the French judge an affidavit by a US lawyer describing the stages and characteristics of a jury trial and explaining how the rights of the parties are guaranteed and how the final decision is reached.

In the Reims Court of Appeal case, the plaintiff had neither produced equivalent probative documents nor met all the abovementioned conditions. It is therefore understandable that this claim was dismissed. This precedent does, however, call for caution. Claimants should not presume that judgments obtained in the United States following a jury trial are automatically enforceable in France. Enforcing those judgments in France entails both cost and risk.

Claimants wishing to enforce a favorable judgment rendered by a civil jury in the United States should make sure to provide the French judge with several significant documents from the US trial. Doing so will enable the French judge to grasp the specific features of a US jury trial, understand the chronology of the trial, and determine the rationale or motivation for the judgment, which will then be enforceable in France.


Morgan Lewis, which has offices both in the United States and in France, is available for any questions regarding the enforcement of US (or more generally non-French) judgments in France.

Law clerk Ines Chaudonneret contributed to this LawFlash.


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following:

Xavier Haranger (Paris)
Ari M. Selman (New York)

[1] Reims Court of Appeal, Jan. 23, 2024, no. 23/00971. It should be noted that, according to our information, a petition has been lodged against this judgment before the French High Court, which should rule on this issue.

[2] According to the leading Cornelissen precedent: High Court, Feb. 20, 2007, no. 05‑14.082.

[3] Two landmark rulings have structured current French case law: High Court, Oct. 17, 1972, no. 71‑12.616 and High Court, Nov. 28, 2006, no. 04-19.031.