The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled today (January 10, 2020) that an employee’s wages CAN be claimed as exempt personal property if there is a garnishment.
In the case, Renter’s Realty sued Ieisha Smith for eviction and for damages. Renter’s obtained an order of possession and a judgment for $5,145. They garnished her wages. Ms. Smith filed a motion to stop the garnishment, under a claim of exemption. She said her bi-weekly wages were $900 or less and all of the money was used for current living expenses.
Renter’s argued she could not claim wages as exempt because Alabama Code Section 6-10-6.1 (which became law on June 11, 2015) specifically said that was not allowed.
The Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. It said Section 204 of the Alabama Constitution provided that personal property up to the value of $1,000 was exempt, and the courts had always interpreted “personal property” to include wages due from an employer. Because the Constitution gave debtors a specific protection, the Legislature was not allowed to take it way with just a statute. There would have to be a Constitutional Amendment, which had not happened.
More than likely, Renter’s will try to get a different opinion from the Alabama Supreme Court. Unless and until that happens, the Court of Civil Appeals decision is the law. Wages can be claimed as exempt from garnishment.