Writ Of Garnishment May Not Work Against Debtor’s Account Opened At Bank Branch In Another State

I had always thought that a creditor can garnish a debtor’s bank account in any state where the bank maintained a branch office. For example, if a debtor opened a bank account at a small Georgia bank, and the bank had a branch in Florida, a Florida court could issue a writ garnishment against the debtor’s account to be served upon the Florida branch of the Georgia bank. The creditor did not have to domesticate the judgment in Georgia and garnish the account at the Georgia bank branch where the debtor opened the account. If the Georgia bank had a branch in South Carolina, for instance, a creditor can garnish the account with a South Carolina writ. I think the law as described makes sense.

I came across a federal district court case with a different view, a view that would make more difficult the garnishment of a debtor’s  bank accounts opened outside of Florida. In this case, a debtor opened a bank account at a Pennsylvania branch of PNC Bank. PNC is a Delaware based bank with branches in many states including Florida. The debtor moved to Florida. A creditor obtained a Florida judgment against the debtor. The creditor served a writ of garnishment at a PNC branch in Florida.

A federal magistrate issued a report and recommendation, adopted by the district court judge, dissolving the writ of garnishment because a Florida garnishment writ could not apply to a bank account opened and maintained at a branch outside of Florida even though the bank had a Florida branch. The report finds that a Florida court does not have jurisdiction over property situated in another state, and that money in a debtor’s bank account is located at the branch and in the state where the debtor maintains the account relationship. Because this debtor’s account and money was in a Pennsylvania branch of PNC a Florida court could not exercise jurisdiction over the money through a writ of garnishment.  The report stated that the creditor still has a remedy in Pennsylvania to satisfy the judgment from the debtor’s bank account. The cite is 2010 WL 1790439

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Jon Alper is an expert in asset protection planning for individuals and small businesses.

Jon Alper

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