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United States v. Ralph Edward Place

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

June 18, 2018





         Before the Court are three Claims of Exemption From Garnishment [doc. # 80, pp. 1-6], a Motion for Hearing [doc. # 80, p. 18], and a Motion to Transfer [doc. # 81] filed by Defendant, Ralph Edward Place. These matters have been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of the Court. For reasons assigned below, it is recommended that the claims of exemption and both motions be DENIED.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         On August 24, 2001, this Court entered a Judgment [doc. # 30] following Defendant's guilty plea to Wire Fraud under 18 U.S.C. §1343. Defendant was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release. Defendant was further sentenced to pay an assessment of $100.00 and restitution to five individuals totaling $365, 500.00. This Court ordered that “[a]ny restitution that remains unpaid at the time of the defendant's release from confinement shall be payable in monthly installments in the amount of $500.00 to begin 30 days from his release, and continuing monthly thereafter until paid in full.” Defendant was released from incarceration on January 9, 2003. See Doc. # 36. On May 10, 2004, the Court entered an Order [doc. # 34] reducing the amount of the restitution monthly payment to $300.00. On January 8, 2006, Defendant was released from supervision. See Doc. # 82, p. 10.

         On April 24, 2018, the U.S. Attorney filed a Writ of Continuing Garnishment [doc. #79] (the “Writ”) against Defendant's bank account with JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. Attached to the Writ was a Clerk's Notice of Post-Judgment Garnishment (the “Clerk's Notice”), a blank Motion for Hearing form, and a blank Claim for Exemption Form. See Doc. # 79-1. The Clerk's Notice included the following paragraph:

If you think you live outside the federal judicial district in which the court is located, you may request, not later than 20 days after you receive this notice, that this proceeding to take your property be transferred by the Court to the federal judicial district in which you reside. You must make your request in writing, and either mail it or deliver it in person to the Clerk of Court.

Clerk's Notice, doc. # 79-1, p. 2.

         On May 24, 2018, Defendant made two filings. First, he filed the Writ and attached documents [doc. # 80]. This included three executed copies of the Claim Exemption Form, wherein Defendant claimed the same exemption: the funds sought to be garnished are unemployment benefits. See Doc. # 80, pp. 1-6. Defendant also attached, but did not execute, a copy of the Motion for Hearing form. See Id. at p. 18. The second filing was a letter addressed to the Clerk of Court [doc. # 81], wherein Defendant asserts that he has resided outside the Western District of Louisiana for 15 years and requests that the proceedings be transferred to the judicial district where he resides. Defendant lists an address in Decatur, Texas, which is in the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division.

         On May 29, 2018, the United States filed its Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Exemptions Hearing and Transfer [doc. # 82], arguing that Defendant's claims of exemption are invalid and noting that Defendant does not dispute that the funds are owed. Accordingly, the United States concludes that no hearing is warranted and that transferring the case would only serve to delay collection. For the reasons stated below, the undersigned agrees.

         I. Collection of Restitution Judgments.

         The Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, (“MVRA”), provides that when sentencing a criminal defendant, “the court shall order . . . that the defendant make restitution to the victim of the offense . . . .” 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(a)(1). The MVRA also provides that the government may enforce restitution orders ”in the same manner it recovers fines and by all other available means.” United States v. Phillips, 303 F.3d 548, 551 (5th Cir. 2002). This includes use of the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (“FDCPA”) (28 U.S.C. § 3001 et seq.). Id. The FDCPA authorizes the government to seek and a court to issue a “writ of garnishment against property (including nonexempt disposable earnings) in which the debtor has a substantial nonexempt interest and which is in the possession, custody, or control of a person other than the debtor, in order to satisfy the judgment against the debtor.” 28 U.S.C. § 3205(a).

         II. Claims of Exemption.

         The government may enforce a restitution order via garnishment against “all property or rights to property of the [defendant], ” excluding a limited list of exempt property. 18 U.S.C. § 3613(a). The following types of property are exempt from garnishment: (1) wearing apparel and school books; (2) fuel, provisions, furniture, and personal effects not to exceed $9, 380 in value; (3) books and tools of a trade, business or profession not to exceed $4, 690 in value; (4) unemployment benefits; (5) undelivered mail; (6) annuity and pension payments under the Railroad Retirement Act, benefits under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, and certain payments for military service; (7) workman's compensation; (8) judgments for support of minor children; (9) certain service-connected disability payments; and (10) assistance under the Job Training Participation Act. 18 U.S.C. ยง 3613(a)(1) ...

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