On September 8, 2015, U.S. District Judge Marvin H. Shoob held that Georgias post-judgment garnishment statute, O.C.G.A. 18-4-60, et seq., is unconstitutional in Strickland v. Alexander, No. 1:12-CV-02735-MHS (N.D. Ga. Sept. 8, 2015)(granting summary judgment for plaintiff). This ruling has impacted several counties throughout the State of Georgia, and has left creditors on uncertain ground.
The plaintiff, Tony Strickland, filed suit against Gwinnett County Court Clerk Richard T. Alexander, among other defendants, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, challenging the constitutionality of Georgias post judgment garnishment statute. Mr. Stricklands bank account was garnished in Gwinnett County by Discover, with the summons of garnishment issued by Court Clerk Alexander. However, the garnished bank account held his workers compensation settlement funds, which is property exempt from garnishment. Though the notices of garnishment that Mr. Strickland received complied with Georgia law, Mr. Strickland contended that the notices did not adequately notify him that some of his funds were exempt from garnishment.
Mr. Strickland filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that Georgias garnishment statute violates due process clause of the Constitution because it (1) does not provide judgment debtors with adequate notice that their property may be exempt from garnishment; (2) fails to inform debtors of the process to claim such exemptions; and (3) establishes a process that deprives debtors of their exempt property for an unconstitutionally long period of time. The District Court ruled in favor of Mr. Strickland on all three claims, enjoined Court Clerk Alexander from issuing any further summons of garnishment, and declared the garnishment statute unconstitutional. The defendants deadline to file an appeal is Wednesday, October 7, 2015.
As a result, Gwinnett County is currently enjoined from issuing any summons of garnishment. Further, on September 14, 2015, Fulton Countys Magistrate Court issued a standing order to stay garnishment cases until further notice. Henry Countys Magistrate Court has also stopped processing garnishment cases. Thus, while counties are still accepting garnishment filings, several are not processing them at all while other counties are struggling to implement their own rules to provide notice and process in regards to exempt funds.
Current employers and garnishees, may consider O.C.G.A. 18-4-92.1(b) which provides a safe harbor for garnishees as long as they make a good faith effort to comply with the summons of garnishment. Despite the current uncertainty in Georgias garnishment law, those currently obligated to comply with a garnishment should continue to make a good faith effort to do so. And hire competent legal counsel to handle these increasingly complex matters.