Law School Case Brief
Sniadach v. Family Fin. Corp. - 395 U.S. 337, 89 S. Ct. 1820 (1969)
Absent notice and a prior hearing, the procedure set forth in Wis. Stat. § 267.18(2)(a) for the prejudgment garnishment of wages violates the fundamental principles of due process.
The creditors instituted a garnishment action against the defendant debtor and her employer, as garnishee. The complaint alleged a claim of $420 on a promissory note, and the garnishee in its answer stated that it had wages of $63.18 under its control earned by the defendant and unpaid, and that it would pay one-half to the defendant as a subsistence allowance and would hold the other half subject to the order of the court. The defendant was served with summons and complaint on the same day as the garnishee, but moved that the garnishment proceedings be dismissed for failure to satisfy the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment, in that notice and an opportunity to be heard were not given before the in rem seizure of her wages. The Wisconsin Supreme Court sustained the County Court in approving the procedure. and the case was appealed.
Did the interim freezing of wages violate procedural due process?
The United States Supreme Court found that the prejudgment garnishment procedure violated the fundamental principles of due process. The Court concluded that a prejudgment garnishment could impose tremendous hardship on wage earners with families to support. Further, the statutory exemption granted the debtor was insufficient to support her for any one week. Because the taking of the debtor's property was so obvious, the Court needed no extended argument to conclude that, absent a prior hearing, the garnishment violated the Fourteenth Amendment's due process requirements.
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