Pre-judgment writs of garnishment against bank accounts and accounts payable can be very effective in collecting funds owed by a debtor. Florida Statutes §77.031 allows a creditor to obtain a writ of garnishment before serving the debtor with any notice. This collection tool is especially important if the creditor beleives the debtor will be quickly disposing of its assets.
A few months ago I handled a claim of exemption hearing for a client seeking a head of household exemption for garnishment of his wages. My client resides in another state, but his employer is a Florida corporation and was served with a writ of garnishment in Florida. My client testified at his claim of exemption hearing that he earned a salary and provided more than one-half of the support for his minor children. The creditor's counsel argued that because my client resided out of Florida, he could not use the exemption because it is only applied to Florida residents. The Court rejected his argument and granted my client's exemption. The creditor appealed the ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
I recently had a non-resident client whose salary was garnished by a Florida court because his employer had an office in Florida and he had a judgment entered against him in Florida. We timely challenged the garnishment by filing a head of household claim of exemption. However, at the hearing on same, opposing counsel argued that the Florida head of household exemption does not apply to non-residents. The court disagreed reasoning that if a creditor can use Florida's garnishment statute against a non-resident, then a non-resident should be able to use the exemption set forth in the same statute as a defense and dissolved the writ of garnishment.
I recently had a potential client contact me concerning the consequences of a garnishee's failure to answer a writ of garnishment. Florida law provides that a judgment creditor may serve an employer to garnish a debtor's wages as well as any other entity that may be holding funds of the debtor, such as a bank. Once served with the writ of garnishment, the employer, bank or other entity becomes the "garnishee." The garnishee then has 20 days to serve its answer to the garnishment stating the funds, if any, that the garnishee has belonging to the debtor.
An effective post-judgment garnishment tool for a judgment creditor is garnishment of a judgment debtor's bank account. However, what happens when the judgment debtor resides in another state but uses a national bank with a branch in Florida. Does the bank account fall within the Florida court's jurisdiction to be subject to the writ of garnishment?