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North Alabama Real Estate Group, LLC v. Pineda

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

April 27, 2018

North Alabama Real Estate Group, LLC
v.
Alejandro Pineda

          Appeal from Madison Circuit Court (CV-16-98)

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         North Alabama Real Estate Group, LLC ("NAREG"), appeals from a judgment of the Madison Circuit Court ("the circuit court") dismissing the writ of garnishment it had received against Alejandro Pineda.

         The record indicates the following. NAREG filed an unlawful-detainer action against Pineda in the Madison District Court ("the district court") on August 1, 2015, in which NAREG sought possession of residential rental property and damages. Before the trial, Pineda agreed to vacate the property. On January 13, 2016, after a trial on the issue of damages, the district court entered a judgment against Pineda and awarded NAREG $9, 162.50, plus court costs. The judgment had not been paid five months later, so on June 22, 2016, NAREG filed its application for a writ of garnishment in the district court. The district court granted the application and issued the writ on June 23, 2016. Pineda responded by filing a motion to stay the garnishment and a verified declaration and claim of exemption. In his claim of exemption, Pineda asserted that his wages were approximately $300 each week and were exempt from garnishment pursuant to Article 10, § 204, of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 ("§ 204"). NAREG challenged Pineda's claim of exemption, contending that Pineda was entitled to a one-time-only exemption of $1, 000 and that the constitutional exemption of $1, 000 in personal property did not include wages. Pineda then moved to dismiss the garnishment. In response, NAREG moved to deny the motion to dismiss.

         On September 2, 2016, the district court entered a judgment determining that Pineda was entitled to a single $1, 000 exemption, after which 25% of his net income was to be withheld from future wages. Pineda timely appealed the district court's determination to the circuit court.

         On October 25, 2016, in response to a joint motion of the parties, the circuit court stayed the writ of garnishment the district court had issued on June 23, 2016. On April 6, 2017, Pineda filed a motion in the circuit court again seeking the dismissal of the garnishment. He also submitted a trial brief to the circuit court, in which he argued that § 6-10-6.1, Ala. Code 1975, was unconstitutional. On April 7, 2017, NAREG moved to deny Pineda's motion to dismiss.

         A hearing was held on April 10, 2017, during which the parties presented their arguments to the circuit court. A transcript of the hearing is not included in the record on appeal, but the parties agree that no evidence was submitted during that hearing. On April 17, 2017, the circuit court entered a judgment determining that Pineda was "entitled to a one time exemption of $1, 000" and that, thereafter, he was "entitled to claim future wages as exempt up to 75% of each paycheck." The circuit court ordered Pineda's employer to withhold 25% of Pineda's net income from future income, pursuant to the writ of garnishment.

         On May 15, 2017, Pineda filed a "motion to reconsider" in the circuit court, pursuant to Rule 59(e), Ala. R. Civ. P.[1]In his postjudgment motion, Pineda advised the circuit court of this court's opinion in Merrida v. Credit Acceptance Corp., [Ms. 2160188, May 12, 2017] ___ So.3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2017), which had been issued less than 30 days after the circuit court's judgment of April 17, 2017. Pineda relied on Merrida for its holding that, because the employees in the two cases addressed in that opinion averred that they did "not accumulate more than $1, 000 in wages, they [were] entitled to claim the entirety of their wages each pay period 'over and over again, ' ... until such time as they accumulated more than $1, 000." Id. at ___ (quoting Walker v. Williams & Bouler Constr. Co., 46 Ala.App. 337, 341, 241 So.2d 896, 900 (Ala. Civ. App. 1970)).

         NAREG responded to Pineda's "motion to reconsider, " arguing that, pursuant to § 6-10-6.1, which became effective before NAREG's unlawful-detainer action against Pineda was filed on August 1, 2015, Pineda was barred from claiming wages as personal property subject to constitutional exemption.

         On May 17, 2017, the circuit court entered a judgment dismissing the writ of garnishment. The circuit court did not elaborate on its decision. On June 13, 2017, NAREG filed a "motion to reconsider"[2] the dismissal of the garnishment. That motion was denied by operation of law on September 11, 2017. NAREG appealed to this court on September 15, 2017.

         NAREG contends that the circuit court erred by not applying § 6-10-6.1 to preclude Pineda from claiming his wages as personal property "'over and over again.'" Merrida, So.3d at ___. That statute provides:

"(a) Wages, salaries, or other compensation of a resident are not personal property for the purposes of exemption from garnishment, levy, sale under execution, or other process for the collection of debt.
"(b) It is the intent of this section to exclude from the meaning of personal property the wages, salaries, or other compensation of a resident for the purposes of the personal property exemption under Section 6-10-6 and Section 204 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901."

         In Alabama Telco Credit Union v. Gibbons, 195 So.3d 1012, 1016 (Ala. Civ. App. ...


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