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General Finance Corp. v. Rainer

DECEMBER 31, 1958.

GENERAL FINANCE CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THOMAS RAINER, DEFENDANT. FAIRBANKS MORSE & CO., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, GARNISHEE-DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Municipal Court of Chicago; the Hon. JOSEPH DRUCKER, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded with directions.

JUSTICE KILEY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

Rehearing denied February 20, 1959.

This is a garnishment proceeding begun in August, 1956, to collect upon a judgment against a non-resident employee. The trial court on March 20, 1958, entered judgment in favor of the use-plaintiff, General Finance Corp., and defendant Fairbanks Morse Co., garnishee, has appealed.

There is no question raised about the underlying confession judgment against the employee Rainer, and the parties either stipulated to or do not dispute, the essential facts.

Rainer worked for Fairbanks Morse Co. from July 11, 1956 to February 17, 1957; he is a householder residing in Wisconsin and entitled, by virtue of section 21 of our Exemptions Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1955, ch. 52) to the exemption provided by Wisconsin law; his wages subject to garnishment, over the amount exempted under Wisconsin law, are $329.22; and General Finance is entitled to judgment for that sum if the trial court ruled properly on the motion of Fairbanks Morse to dismiss.

The motion to quash the garnishment summons and dismiss the proceedings was based on the ground that a written demand was not made on Rainer under section 14 of the Garnishment Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1955, ch. 62) and that the judgment was therefore void. The motion was denied. If the written demand was essential the trial court should have sustained the motion.

Plaintiff contends that section 14 "clearly" excludes Rainer from its benefits, since it is intended only for residents of Illinois.

It must be kept in mind that "The primary aim of statutory construction is to ascertain the legislative intent by examining not only the language employed, but the evil to be remedied and the end to be obtained," People ex rel. Roan v. Wilson, 405 Ill. 122, 127. The Garnishment statute was enacted for a "humane purpose: for the benefit of the debtor's family as well as himself, and should receive a fair and liberal construction, that it may effectuate the beneficial object the legislature had in view," Bliss v. Smith, 78 Ill. 359, 361 (1875); Illinois Cent. R. Co. v. Cowles, 127 Ill. App. 456, 461-462 (1906). Traditionally these statutes have been given a liberal interpretation in favor of the debtor, and the courts hold consistently that unless the terms of the statute are strictly followed the debtor will prevail, Sutherland on Statutory Construction (3rd Edition) page 369. It is said that the chief objectives of the exemption laws are: (1) insuring of a means of livelihood and subsistence to the debtor; (2) protection and welfare of his family; (3) the prevention of any possibility that the debtor or his family might become a public charge upon the state. Ibid, pp. 371-372.

Section 14 provides, so far as now pertinent:

"The wages or salary of an employee who is the head of a family and residing with the same, to the amount of $35.00 per week . . . shall be exempt from garnishment. . . . No employer so served with garnishment shall in any case be liable to answer for any amount not earned by such employee at the time of service of the writ. . . .

"Before bringing suit a demand in writing shall be served upon the employer and the employee for the excess above the amount herein exempted. . . ."

Plaintiff argues that the term "such employee" refers to an employee exempted "to the amount of $35.00 per week" and that since Rainer's Wisconsin exemption, to which he was entitled under Wisconsin law, is $25.00, he is excluded from section 14 and not entitled to the "demand in writing." We disagree for we think the term "such employee" refers to an employee "who is the head of a family" etc., Harris v. Montag, 247 Ill. App. 89. The phrase "to the amount of $35.00 per week" merely modifies "wages or salary."

There is no express exclusion of non-residents from the terms of section 14 and nothing in a literal interpretation which discloses an intention to exclude non-residents.

Plaintiff argues that the legislature divided employees into two classes in the Garnishment Act, placing resident employees who are heads of families in section 14, and non-resident employees who are heads of families together with non-resident and resident employees who are not heads of families in section 5 where no demand is required before garnishment. This argument would force into the language of section 5 a classification not warranted by the language or by logic. Also the Illinois legislature would have had to intend to treat non-resident heads of families with less concern than Illinois' own. The fact that in 1957 the legislature brought employees not heads of families, ...


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