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COA upholds $12 garnishment

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A Miami Circuit Court did not err in its interpretation of a statute involving garnishment of wages when ruling a company was correctly withholding only $12.17 from an employee, held the Indiana Court of Appeals Wednesday.

Mari Miller filed a petition in September 2010 against Waterford Place, the employer of Fabian Calisto, arguing it was in indirect contempt of a court-ordered garnishment for deducting just over $12 from Calisto’s paycheck.

A jury found Calisto liable to Miller in 2001 for $900,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Under Indiana Code 24-4.5-5-105, his employer was to deduct 25 percent of his wages. At the same time, he was also having $348 withheld to satisfy a child support order. Miller didn’t believe Calisto's then-employer, Care Centers Inc., was properly garnishing his wages and the trial court found the employer in indirect contempt, holding the amount of his wages subject to garnishment couldn’t be reduced by the child support withholding that was also taken from his wages.

Calisto later began working for Waterford Place, which garnished the wages in the similar way as the previous employer, finding that Miller was only entitled to the $12 under statute because of the child support withholding. The trial court found Waterford to be correct in its calculations and denied Miller’s request for attorney fees.

The Court of Appeals agreed in Mari Miller v. Glenda Owens, et al., No. 52A05-1012-CP-742, finding the law-of-the-case doctrine to be inapplicable despite Miller’s arguments. An attempted appeal of the trial court’s previous ruling finding Care Centers in contempt for its garnishments was dismissed as untimely, and the trial court’s ruling was not adopted by an appellate court’s decision.

The judges also rejected Miller’s arguments that the trial court erred by not concluding Waterford’s arguments were precluded by offensive collateral estoppel. She never presented this claim to the trial court, and even if she did, she wouldn’t prevail, wrote Judge Paul Mathias. Waterford wasn’t a defendant who had “previously litigated unsuccessfully in an action with another party” and wasn’t a party at all when the trial court issued its earlier rulings.

The COA looked at Section 105 and found it to be clear and unambiguous.

“If a person is subject to both a child support withholding order and a garnishment order, as is Calisto, then the garnishment order shall be honored only to the extent that the earnings withheld under the child support withholding order do not exceed the amount subject to garnishment under Subsection 105(2). As set forth above, the maximum amount subject to garnishment under Subsection 105(2) in Calisto’s case is twenty-five percent of his weekly disposable earnings, or $360.17,” the judge wrote. “Thus, pursuant to the clear and unambiguous language of Subsection 105(8), Miller’s garnishment order can only be honored to the extent that the earnings withheld under the child support order do not exceed $360.17. Calisto’s current child support withholding order is $348. The extent to which $348 does not exceed $360.17 is $12.17. This is the amount that the trial court concluded that Waterford was properly withholding from Calisto’s weekly wages.”

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