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Judges split on court's role in garnishments with pro se debtors

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided on whether a trial court should assert exemptions in garnishment actions on behalf of debtors who aren’t represented by counsel.

In two opinions released today, Quincy and Shannon Branham v. Rodney Varble and Norman Chastain, No. 62A01-1004-SC-192, and Quincy and Shannon Branham v. Rodney and Carol Varble, No. 62A04-1004-SC-256, Quincy and Shannon Branham claimed the trial court acted contrary to law when it ordered them to pay $50 a month toward small-claims judgments, make repeated court appearances, and required Quincy seek five jobs per week.

The couple had trial consent judgments entered against them. They either stopped making payments or never paid toward the judgment. Ultimately they were ordered to pay $50 a month in each case. They appeared in court multiple times for each case.

In their case with the Varbles, the Branhams argued that the court “circumvented the statutory protections for earned income” by ordering them to pay $50 a month since the prior lawful garnishment order had been fruitless. The majority disagreed and upheld the order. Judge Terry Crone dissented, finding the Varbles didn’t meet their burden of showing that the Branhams had property not subject to exemptions.

In the Branhams’ case with Rodney Varble and Norman Chastain, the Branhams claimed on appeal that when a debtor is unrepresented, the court must protect the debtor’s constitutional rights and sua sponte determine what exemptions would be the least burdensome for the debtor. They didn’t enter any exemptions during the proceedings supplemental and weren’t represented by counsel. Again, the majority disagreed.

The judges split over the application of Mims v. Commercial Credit Corp., 261 Ind. 591, 307 N.E.2d 867 (1974). In Mims, the Indiana Supreme Court acknowledged that the general rule is that the burden is on the debtor to claim the exemption. If the debtor is represented pro se, then the court must determine which exemption would be least burdensome.

Judge Terry Crone wrote in his dissent that he believes that Mims unambiguously requires that trial courts assert exemptions on behalf of pro se debtors and that the majority construed it far too narrowly in the instant case.

“The supreme court has neither narrowed nor disavowed Mims since it was decided in 1974, and the fact that some trial courts may not follow Mims in the workaday world does not make that case any less binding on them or on us,” he wrote.

But the majority felt that to adopt Judge Crone’s view would essentially recast the role of the judiciary from traditional decision-making to one of advocacy for the parties and that the procedure proposed in Mims was specific to the case before it. No other case has adopted the interpretation of Mims proposed by Judge Crone, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.  

In both cases, the judges also were divided on the repeated court appearances issue; the majority found the trial court didn’t err, while Judge Crone dissented because he felt the creditors didn’t show new facts that justified a new order or examination. He would reverse the entire order and order further proceedings supplemental stayed until the creditors could show the new facts justifying the new order.

The three judges did agree that in both cases, the trial court overstepped its authority and abused its discretion in requiring Quincy to seek alternative employment by submitting five applications a week and reversed that part of the court’s order.
 

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  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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