Ohno v. Yasuma

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 07-02-2013
  • Case #: 11-55081
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judges Graber and Pregerson
  • Full Text Opinion

Domestic enforcement of a foreign money damages award under California law does not violate constitutional principles of free exercise of religion if the domestic court does not retry the case on its merits and the foreign judgment does not meet the high bar of the “repugnant to public policy" exception.

Noaka Ohno joined the Saints of Glory Church, donated the required tithing, and ceased taking certain medications at the suggestion of the pastor, Yuko Yasuma. Further pressured by Yasuma, Ohno emptied her savings account and donated approximately $500,000 to the Church. After removal from the Church and her Church-owned apartment, Ohno filed a complaint in the Toyko District Court claiming tort and unjust enrichment claims. The Tokyo court found in favor of Ohno and ordered the Church to pay $843,235.66. Ohno filed a diversity action in California district court to enforce the Japanese judgment. Finding in favor of Ohno, the district court held that the judgment did not offend the Free Exercise Clause or the California constitution. The Ninth Circuit held that enforcing the judgment pursuant to California's foreign judgment enforcement statute (the Uniform Act) simply gave effect to the judgment, and did not unconstitutionally render judgment. The panel found that while the Uniform Act and judicial enforcement are technically state action, neither addresses the substance of the decision and such limited involvement does not infringe the Church's rights. The panel declined to extend case law to judicial enforcement of foreign-country money judgments, reasoning it would impose the U.S. Constitution on foreign governments. The panel held that enforcement of the judgment does not meet the “repugnant to public policy” exception to the Uniform Act, observing that mere inconsistency between American and Japanese law will not meet the high repugnancy standard. Comparing the Japanese claims to American law, the panel found similarities enough to determine Ohno had claims under U.S. law. The panel held that though the Japanese court did not find the requisite elements for the claims under California law, the judgment was not antagonistic to American tort or constitutional principles so as to justify non-enforcement. AFFIRMED.

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