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Commonwealth Edison v. Denson

OPINION FILED JUNE 19, 1986.

COMMONWEALTH EDISON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

WILLIE W. DENSON, DEFENDANT (CATERPILLAR TRACTOR COMPANY, APPELLANT). — NEWSOME PHYSICAL THERAPY CLINIC, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

DWIGHT R. MORGAN, DEFENDANT (CATERPILLAR TRACTOR COMPANY, APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Vincent J. Cerri, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STOUDER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Employer-appellant, Caterpillar Tractor Company (Caterpillar), appeals from two separate judgments of the circuit court of Will County directing Caterpillar to file amended answers to wage-deduction interrogatories. This dispute arises out of different interpretations of how the provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (15 U.S.C. § 1671 et seq.) and the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 12-803) restricting garnishment of wages should be applied to the following facts.

The first action was originally brought by plaintiff-appellee Commonwealth Edison (Com Ed) to collect monies due and owing to it by defendant Willie Denson. On June 27, 1984, the circuit court entered judgment in favor of Com Ed and against Denson for $629.54 plus costs. Summons was issued pursuant to an affidavit for a wage-deduction order in the amount of the outstanding judgment, and Com Ed served interrogatories upon Caterpillar, Denson's current employer.

Caterpillar responded to the interrogatories and forwarded a check to Com Ed in the amount of $139.32. Caterpillar declined to deduct the full 15% of Denson's gross earnings, in accordance with the order, as it was already withholding $60 per week from his wages pursuant to a previously filed support order. Com Ed contested.

The second action was originally brought by plaintiff-appellee Newsome Physical Therapy Clinic (Newsome) to collect monies due and owing to it by defendant Dwight Morgan. On October 31, 1984, the circuit court entered judgment in favor of Newsome and against Morgan for $748.19 plus costs. Summons was issued pursuant to an affidavit for a wage-deduction order in the amount of the outstanding judgment, and Newsome served interrogatories upon Caterpillar, Morgan's current employer.

Caterpillar responded to the interrogatories, declining to deduct any amount from Morgan's earnings on the basis of the fact $180 of Morgan's weekly gross income, or roughly 34%, was already being garnished pursuant to orders of support issued by the Will County circuit court. Caterpillar contends under Illinois law no garnishment is allowed which would exceed the lesser of 15% of gross earnings, or the amount by which the weekly disposable earnings exceed 30 times the Federal minimum hourly wage, which was $3.35 per hour at all times relevant to this case. Newsome contested Caterpillar's answers to the interrogatories.

On November 21, 1984, the court below, at separate hearings on the disputes arising from Caterpillar's answers to the interrogatories, upheld appellees' objections that both Illinois law and the Consumer Credit Protection Act (the Act) allow simultaneous garnishment for family support and payment of judgment creditors even when the amount of the support garnishment exceeds 15%, and ordered Caterpillar to file amended answers to the wage-deduction interrogatories. Caterpillar appealed both decisions, and this court consolidated these appeals.

From our review of the acts and regulations involved, we have determined the trial court erred and therefore its judgment must be reversed. The contention that payroll deductions required under a support order should not be included when computing the percentage reduction of a debtor's disposable earnings is not a legally supportable interpretation and application of these statutes.

• 1 We initially examine the Federal law. Under the supremacy clause (U.S. Const., art. VI) the garnishment-restriction provision of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (Act) (15 U.S.C. sec. 1671 et seq.) preempts State laws insofar as State laws would permit recovery in excess of 25% of an individual's disposable earnings. The cardinal provision of the Act is 15 U.S.C. § 1673, which, as amended, provides in pertinent part as follows:

"1673. Restriction on garnishment

(a) Maximum allowable garnishment

Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section and in section 1675 of this title, the maximum part of the aggregate disposable earnings of an individual for any workweek which is subjected to garnishment may not exceed (1) 25 per centum of his disposable earnings for that week * * *

(b) Exceptions

(1) The restrictions of subsection (a) of this section do not ...


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