Lynch v. Household Finance Corporation

PETITIONER: Lynch
RESPONDENT: Household Finance Corporation
LOCATION: McDonnell Douglas Corporation Factory

DOCKET NO.: 70-5058
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 405 US 538 (1972)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1971
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1972

ADVOCATES:
David M. Lesser - for appellants
Richard G. Bell - for appellees

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Lynch v. Household Finance Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1971 in Lynch v. Household Finance Corporation

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Number 5058, Lynch against Household Finance.

Mr. Lesser you may proceed whenever you are ready.

David M. Lesser:

Thank you Mr. Chief Justice.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is an appeal under Title 28, Section 1253, from the judgment of the Three-Judge District Court in the District of Connecticut which denied injunctive and declaratory relief.

The issue is whether the Federal Courts are powerless to award any redress to low income wage earners whose earnings on deposit are summarily garnished by Connecticut Deputy Sheriffs without any notice, hearing, or order of the State Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Now in Connecticut, would you clear this up for me, must there be an action pending against to the garnish -- the defendant at the time.

David M. Lesser:

I would like Mr. Chief Justice to begin answering that question and then explain the Connecticut practice of summary prejudgment garnishment in some detail because it is quite unusual.

Warren E. Burger:

Yes, you do it on your own way then.

David M. Lesser:

In Connecticut, an alleged creditor and his attorney has absolute discretion prior to instituting suit against the debtor to summarily garnish earnings in his account without any involvement of the court.

The garnishment occurs before process is served upon the debtor.

The attorney for the alleged creditor instructs deputy sheriffs to levy the garnishment by serving a writ of garnishment on the garnishee bank.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Then when he get the judgment?

David M. Lesser:

Judgment is obtained perhaps several years after civil action is commenced by service of process on the debtor Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What -- you garnished as here I gather savings account.

David M. Lesser:

And a checking account, Mr. Justice.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And a checking account.

Now then the garnisher has to -- has immediately to file a civil action of it?

David M. Lesser:

He does not immediately need to file.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

How much time does he have?

David M. Lesser:

Under the applicable statutes, Section 329 of Title 52 and Section 48 (a) of Title 52.

It would be possible for the garnishment to be levied for example on day one for the alleged debtor to be served with process, let us say, on day 45 or 50 and for process to be docketed in the State Court, let us say, on day 55.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And you do not get into the State Court until day 55?

David M. Lesser:

One never gets into the State Court on a garnishment Mr. Justice Brennan to raise any questions with respect to that garnishment.

Now --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

You mean after the proceeding -- even afterward you get into the State Court on day 55?

David M. Lesser:

That is correct Mr. Justice, and I would like to explain that.

Connecticut appears to be the only State in which an alleged creditor and his attorney are permitted in their absolute discretion to levy and maintain a garnishment until final disposition of the creditor suit without any involvement of the State Court.

Most other states require the creditor to get some sort of court approval before garnishment either in the form of posting a bond, filing an affidavit and so far as we know in all other states, the writ of garnishment must be signed or issued by a judge or clerk of court.

None of that obtains here.