Executive Summary: Nearly one month after Federal Judge Marvin Shoob, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, ruled that Georgia's garnishment law is unconstitutional, on Monday, October 5, 2015, Judge Shoob issued an amended order in which he narrowed his original order and ruled that wage garnishments are permitted in Gwinnett County. Strickland v. Alexander, No. 1:12-CV-02735 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 5th, 2015).
The Revised Strickland Decision
Judge Shoob's original order directed all garnishments in Gwinnet County to stop, including continuing wage garnishments and non-exempt funds held in bank accounts. In compliance with this order, Gwinnet County stopped processing new garnishment actions and has refused to accept payment on existing garnishment actions since September 8. Several other counties, including Fulton and Cobb, followed Gwinnett County's lead. For more information please see our prior Alert,Return to Sender: The Boomerang of Garnishment Checks Back to Georgia Employers.
Judge Shoob has now revised the Strickland decision, limiting its application to garnishments filed against individuals' assets held in financial institutions. The Judge stated that the issue of continuing wage garnishments was not before the court in the Strickland case, thus that decision did not apply to continuing wage garnishments.
The Judge's revised order means that continuing wage garnishments by employers may continue in Gwinnett County. Judge Shoob noted, however, that his opinion "expresses no opinion" on the constitutionality of wage garnishments, leaving open the possibility that the constitutionality of wage garnishments may be challenged in a future case.
A representative of the Gwinnet County Magistrate Clerk's Office notified FordHarrison that in light of the new order, Gwinnett County will begin accepting wage garnishments immediately. It is likely other counties will follow suit.
The Bottom Line
Under this revised order, employers should expect to receive new garnishment actions and courts should once again accept funds with answers. Any employer served with or subject to a garnishment summons should comply with its garnishee obligations, including garnishing wages and submitting answers with funds. While it is anticipated that, in light of Judge Shoob's amended order, courts will no longer return funds, should that occur, the safest course of action is to retain any returned funds until instructed to do otherwise by the court that issued the garnishment summons.