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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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