A December 29th New Jersey appeal confirmed the statutory requirement (N.J.S.A. 2A:17-51) that a defendant's employer must be served by a sheriff in order to initiate a wage garnishment process.
In 2012, a creditor got a default judgment against one of the defendant's employee's for $54,159.13. Later, he served the order on the employer through his attorney, by a private process server, and finally by email. Despite being served three different ways, the employer did not withhold any of the employee's wages. So the creditor sued the employer, seeking damages for the failure to garnish, or withhold, wages.
The defendant employer applied for and got a dismissal in the trial court, based on the fact that it was never served by a sheriff according to law. At the trial, the employer was able to show that the wage execution order was never delivered to a sheriff or other qualifying court officer, and that a "writ of execution" was neither issued nor served by a sheriff.
The appeals court agreed. "For good reason, the acceptable practice - made mandatory by the statute and court rules - is for the sheriff to serve an employer with all appropriate [papers] in order for a judgment creditor to obtain the garnishment of wages owed by a judgment debtor." The fact that the order was served on the employer three different ways was irrelevant.
The purpose of this law is to protect people's wages. It establishes specific procedures by which a creditor, as in this case, must comply in order to initiate collections.
Wage Garnishment In New Jersey
When a judgment is obtained against you in court, you legally become a debtor, while the plaintiff is a creditor.
Wage Garnishment is a process by which an employer is directed by court order, delivered by a sheriff, to withhold a specific percentage of a person's wages to be paid to a creditor. But there are both federal and state limits on the amounts/percentages allowable. Under federal law, no more than 25% of your disposable earnings (earnings minus deductions) or your disposable earnings less 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less. Under state law, it is up to 10% of your income if your earn less than 250% of the federal poverty level or up to 25% if you earn more than 250%.
Even if you have multiple wage garnishments against you, the percentages in the aggregate cannot go above the above rule of 10-25%. But in cases of child support, up to 50% of your income can be withheld. Child/spousal support always takes precedence over any other order. Also, an employer cannot fire or threaten to fire you because of a wage garnishment order. If you are ever faced with wage garnishment, it is crucial that you consult an experienced attorney to avoid unfair practices or improper garnishment against you. The law gives extensive protections - depending on your specific situation. Evan Xavier Bakhet is a J.D. Candidate at Rutgers School of Law-Newark with a scheduled graduation date in 2017. He collaborated with me on this blog.