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Helfman v. GE Group Life Assur. Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

July 16, 2012, Filed

File Name: 12a0765n.06

No. 11-1909

Opinion

 [*112]  ROGERS, Circuit Judge. This appeal presents a simple question of statutory interpretation: Does M.C.L. § 600.6023(1)(f), which protects from garnishment "money or other benefits paid . . . on account of" disabilities, protect attorneys fees paid by an insurance company because of an unsuccessful suit relating to disability benefits? The plain meaning of the statute indicates that it does not. The district court was correct to issue a writ of garnishment for attorneys fees awarded to Joel Helfman from his disability insurer to help satisfy an outstanding judgment against him.

Joel Helfman  [**2] was receiving long-term disability benefits from two insurers, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada and Genworth Life and Health Insurance Company. Both companies ceased paying Helfman benefits, though their reasons differed. Helfman appealed the termination decisions, and after exhausting administrative remedies, filed a suit in state court that was removed to federal court. On  [*113]  August 8, 2008, the district court upheld Genworth's termination decision, and further held that Genworth was entitled to repayment of past benefits to Helfman. The district court entered judgment for Genworth against Helfman in the amount of $105,114.07, the entire amount of which is still outstanding. Helfman did not appeal the judgment.

Sun Life, on the other hand, reversed its decision after taking part in several levels of administrative and judicial review. It concluded that Helfman was in fact entitled to all remaining benefits under his policy. Sun Life initially set aside approximately $28,000 to cover this amount, though has since concluded that more is owing. On December 16, 2010, Genworth filed a request and writ for garnishment for the money held by Sun Life, asking that it be used to help satisfy  [**3] Genworth's judgment against Helfman. The district court denied Genworth's request, holding that M.C.L. § 600.6023(1)(f) exempted the money from garnishment because it was a payment from an insurance company for a disability. The relevant language of the statute is:

] (1) The following property of the debtor and the debtor's dependents shall be exempt from levy and sale under any execution:

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489 Fed. Appx. 112 *; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 14700 **; 2012 FED App. 0765N (6th Cir.); 2012 WL 2874046

JOEL HELFMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. GE GROUP LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY; GENWORTH LIFE AND HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants-Appellees, SUN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY OF CANADA, Defendant.

Notice: NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION. SIXTH CIRCUIT RULE 28 LIMITS CITATION TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS. PLEASE SEE RULE 28 BEFORE CITING IN A PROCEEDING IN A COURT IN THE SIXTH CIRCUIT. IF CITED, A COPY MUST BE SERVED ON OTHER PARTIES AND THE COURT. THIS NOTICE IS TO BE PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED IF THIS DECISION IS REPRODUCED.

Prior History:  [**1] ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN.

Helfman v. GE Group Life Assur. Co., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41608 ( E.D. Mich., Apr. 18, 2011)

CORE TERMS

exempt, benefits, attorney's fees, garnishment, disability, district court, insurance company, disability benefits, insurers

Civil Procedure, Judgments, Enforcement & Execution, Garnishment