Lesson. Following the entry of a money judgment, there may be innocent third parties who have money in their possession that they owe to the defendant (aka judgment debtor). If any such third party receives notice of the plaintiff’s (judgment creditor’s) post-judgment claim to such money, the third party should hold the money until the court determines the judgment creditor’s rights to the proceeds. If a third party (known as a garnishee-defendant) pays such money to the judgment debtor, the third party can be liable to the judgment creditor for the amount of money turned over.
Case cite. Garner v. Kempf, 93 N.E3d 109 (Ind. 2018).
Legal issue. Whether Indiana law permits a judgment creditor to garnish a bail bond that the judgment debtor posted in an unrelated criminal case.
Vital facts. A judgment debtor tendered a cash bail bond in a criminal matter, which was unrelated to the civil matter where the judgment was entered. The judgment creditor tried to garnish the bond to satisfy the unpaid judgment. The clerk of the criminal court, who was named as a garnishee-defendant during proceedings supplemental in the civil case, released the funds to the judgment debtor’s criminal defense attorney. The judgment creditor pursued a claim against the clerk for the amount of the released proceeds.
Procedural history. The trial court ruled that the bond was not subject to garnishment. The judgment creditor appealed all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court, which issued the very comprehensive Garner opinion that is the subject of today’s post.
- Court clerks are subject to garnishment proceedings.
- The court that issues the underlying judgment retains jurisdiction over proceedings supplemental, even if there is a parallel action in another court.
- When a garnishee-defendant receives a summons, it becomes “accountable to the plaintiff in the action for the amount of money, property, or credits in the garnishee’s possession or due and owing from the garnishee to the defendant.”
- “In effect, upon serving the summons, the judgment-creditor secures a lien on the defendant-debtor’s property then held by the garnishee-defendant.”
- The garnishee-defendant is liable for paying out funds inconsistent with this lien.
Holding. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court and held that the clerk was an eligible garnishee-defendant and that the civil judgment was a lien on the criminal bond. The Court went on to find that the clerk was liable to the judgment creditor because the clerk distributed the proceeds before the civil court determined the parties’ rights to them.
Policy/rationale. In Garner, the clerk’s main contention was that she was protected by a separate criminal court order that released the bond to the defendant’s attorney. But the clerk had already received a summons from the civil court in connection with the judgment creditor’s proceedings supplemental. The clerk failed to inform the criminal court of the lien on the bond created by the summons. The Indiana Supreme Court reasoned that the clerk had a duty to hold the cash pending a determination of the judgment creditor’s right to the proceeds to satisfy the judgment. When the criminal judge approved of the defendant’s request to use the cash bond proceeds to pay his defense lawyer, “those proceeds were no longer encumbered to ensure [the defendant’s] appearance at his criminal trial,” at which point the proceeds became subject to the judgment creditor’s preexisting garnishment lien. Since the clerk released the money before the civil court determined the plaintiff/judgment-creditor’s right to the proceeds, the clerk became liable to the creditor for that amount. Please note that Justice David wrote a dissenting opinion that focused on the criminal law aspects of the matters at hand.
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