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Mensah v. MCT Fed. Credit Union

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 24, 2016

DANIEL M. MENSAH
v.
MCT FEDERAL CREDIT UNION

         Argued January 12, 2016.

          Certiorari to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, Case No. 8976DCA, Ronald B. Rubin, JUDGE.

         ARGUED BY Brian M. Maul (The Law Office of Brain M. Maul, LLC of Frederick, MD) on brief FOR PETITIONER.

         ARGUED BY Peter C. Nanov (Steven M. Schrier, Schrier, Tolin & Wagman, LLC of Rockville, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENT.

         ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, JJ.

          OPINION

          [446 Md. 526] Battaglia, J.

         Daniel M. Mensah, Petitioner, while living in Maryland, in 2006, opened a personal line of credit as well as a credit card account with MCT Federal Credit Union (" MCT" ), Respondent. Mr. Mensah, over the next several years, accumulated $19,657.66 in credit card debt and amassed $14,951.55 on the line of credit. MCT filed two complaints in 2010 against Mr. Mensah in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County, one for the outstanding balance on the credit card account and another for the money owed on the line of credit. Mr. Mensah, by the time of the filings, had moved to Texas. After several failed attempts at service of Mr. Mensah, substitute service was achieved. Mr. Mensah failed to answer either complaint, and MCT was awarded default judgments in [446 Md. 527] the amount of $21,270.12 on the credit card claim and $15,848.64 on the line of credit. Mr. Mensah failed to note any appeal.

         MCT, in 2013, secured two writs of garnishment in the same actions from the District Court pursuant to Sections 15-601 through 15-606 of the Commercial Law Article, Maryland Code (1978, 2013 Repl.

Page 333

Vol.), as implemented by Rule 3-646.[1] The writs were served on the resident agent[2] of Mr. Mensah's employer, BASF,[3] as well as on its payroll department in New Jersey. Although BASF answered and did not contest the garnishment, Mr. Mensah filed motions to quash the writs, arguing that his wages, earned solely for work he performed in Texas, were not subject to garnishment in Maryland. The District Court denied both motions to quash, and Mr. Mensah [446 Md. 528] appealed to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, which affirmed.

         Mr. Mensah petitioned this Court for certiorari, which was granted in Mensah v. MCT Federal Credit Union, 444 Md. 638, 120 A.3d 766 (2015), to answer the following questions:

I. Does Maryland law allow a judgment creditor (MCT) to garnish wages earned by a judgment-debtor employee (Mensah) exclusively for services/work performed in Texas pursuant to a Writ issued by a Maryland Court?
II. Does Maryland law allow a judgment creditor (MCT) to garnish wages earned by a judgment-debtor employee (Mensah) exclusively for services/work performed in Texas pursuant to a Writ issued by a Maryland Court and served on an employer in New Jersey?[4]

         The underlying judgments for $21,270.12 and $15,848.64 secured by MCT against Mr. Mensah are not in issue, because no appeal was taken by Mr. Mensah to challenge them. The sole issue before us involves judgment enforcement, i.e. whether the District Court in its continuing and ancillary jurisdiction could order wages earned outside of Maryland by a non-resident judgment debtor to be subject to garnishment served upon an employer with continuous and systematic business in

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Maryland.[5] We shall answer yes to this question.

          One opportunity to garnish wages outside of the jurisdiction in which a money judgment has been entered is to enroll the judgment in the " foreign" jurisdiction, pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (" UEFJA" ), [446 Md. 529] which was approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1948 and revised in 1964. See Unif. Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Act (revised 1964) 13 U.L.A. 156 (2002). The UEFJA enables a party awarded a judgment in one state to enforce that judgment in another state by recording or " enrolling" the judgment in the latter state.[6] The enrolled " foreign" judgment is then treated as though it were a judgment of the receiving state.[7]

         Maryland adopted the 1964 revision of the UEFJA with modification in Chapter 497 of the Maryland Laws of 1987. Codified in Sections 11-801 through 11-807 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, Maryland Code (1987, 2013 Repl. Vol.), the UEFJA offers a judgment creditor holding a valid judgment from another state or jurisdiction a way to enforce that judgment in Maryland.[8] The judgment creditor may file, [446 Md. 530] or enroll, the judgment in a court in Maryland, where the judgment will then be treated as though it were a judgment of the Maryland court and may, among other things, seek its enforcement.[9] Notice of the enrollment of

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the judgment must be provided to the judgment debtor.[10]

          The State of Texas also has adopted the 1964 revision of the UEFJA, codified in 1985 in Sections 35.001 through 35.008 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § § 35.001-35.008. Despite the ability to enroll the Maryland judgment in Texas, however, MCT did not do so. Apparently, Section 28 of Article 16 of the Texas Constitution prohibits a wage garnishment for any purpose other than the enforcement of child support or spousal maintenance.[11] [446 Md. 531] Tex. Const. Art. 16 § 28. To that end, Section 42.001 of the Texas Property Code exempts " current wages for personal services, except for the enforcement of court-ordered child support payments[.]" [12] Tex. Prop. Code § 42.001(b)(1).

         An alternative garnishment method that MCT sought to utilize involved the satisfaction of the money judgment through wage attachment served on the employer's, BASF, Maryland resident agent, pursuant to Sections 15-601 et seq. of the Commercial Law Article, Maryland Code (1978, 2013 Repl. Vol.). " Wages," for the purpose of attachment, is defined as " all monetary remuneration paid to any employee for his employment" in Section 15-601(c) of the Commercial Law Article, without any indication as to where the remuneration must be earned. The term " employee", referenced in Section 15-601(c), " includes an employee whether he is a resident or nonresident of the State." (emphasis added). All wages of an employee that are and become payable are subject to a lien to satisfy the judgment:

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( a) When an attachment is levied against the wages of a judgment debtor, it shall constitute a lien on all attachable [446 Md. 532] wages that are payable at the time the attachment is served or which become payable until the judgment, interest, and costs, as specified in the attachment, are satisfied.
(b) Any waiver of the limitations contained in § 15-601.1(b)(1) and (2) of this subtitle is void.

         Section 15-602 of the Commercial Law Article.

          Maryland Rule 3-646 " governs garnishment of wages under Code, Commercial Law Article, § § 15-601 through 15-606." Rule 3-646(a). The Rule, under subsection (b), permits a judgment creditor, by " filing in the same action in which the judgment was obtained" a request, including the caption of the action, the money owed under the judgment, the name and address of the judgment debtor and the name and address of the garnishee--a third party who possesses property of the debtor, generally the debtor's employer in a situation involving wage garnishment--to obtain a writ of garnishment. The writ, when issued, must contain the information from the judgment creditor's request and inform the garnishee regarding its need to answer, as well as inform the judgment debtor of his right to contest the garnishment. Rule 3-646(c).

         Upon issuance, the writ of garnishment and an answer form are served upon the garnishee, and a copy is mailed to the judgment debtor. Rule 3-646(d). Subsection (e) of 3-646 pertains to the response by the garnishee, and requires an answer within 30 days indicating whether the debtor is an employee, and, if so, the current pay rate and any existing wage liens. The garnishee is also permitted, under subsection (e), to assert any defenses it may have or any that might be available to the debtor, and the judgment debtor may, at any time, assert a defense or an objection to the garnishment.

         In the event that the garnishee does not timely answer, the judgment creditor may move for a contempt order under subsection (f). The garnishee may deny that the debtor is an employee. If either the garnishee or the debtor asserts a defense or objection, a hearing is required. Rule 3-646(g). Subsection (i) sets forth the procedure for the garnishee's withholding and remittance of the wages to the judgment [446 Md. 533] creditor, who must account for the payments received in accordance with subsection (j). Should the debtor's employment cease, the garnishment terminates 90 days thereafter. Rule 3-646(k).

          A wage garnishment obviously, thus, continues from, and is ancillary to, the original judgment entered by a court and is not itself an original action. See Medical Mut. Liability Ins. Soc. of Maryland v. Davis, 389 Md. 95, 883 A.2d 158 (2005) (discussing garnishment of property, other than wages, in the Circuit Court under Rule 2-645).[13] In Davis, we stated:

Although once the issue is joined between the judgment creditor and the garnishee, the garnishment proceeding proceeds as any original action, with the judgment creditor as plaintiff and the garnishee as defendant and is governed by the rules applicable to civil actions, such actions are not original actions, independent of the actions out of which the judgments sought to be enforced emanate. ...

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