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Renter's Realty v. Smith

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 10, 2020

Renter's Realty
Ieisha Smith

          Appeal from Madison Circuit Court (CV-18-69)

          PER CURIAM

         Renter's Realty ("Renter's") appeals from a judgment of the Madison Circuit Court ("the circuit court") discharging a writ of garnishment that had been issued by the Madison District Court ("the district court"). In doing so, the circuit court granted Ieisha Smith's "Declaration and Claim of Exemption" and denied Renter's objection to that claim.

         This is the second appeal to this court that has arisen from the writ of garnishment issued in this action. The record from the previous appeal, Smith v. Renter's Realty, [Ms. 2180304, July 12, 2019] __ So.3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019) ("Smith I"), which the parties have asked to be incorporated as the record in the current appeal, indicates the following. In the district court, Renter's prevailed against Smith in its unlawful-detainer action against her, and the district court entered an order of possession in favor of Renter's. Subsequently, on December 22, 2016, the district court entered a judgment ordering Smith to pay damages and costs in the amount of $5, 145. Smith did not appeal from the December 22, 2016, judgment.

         Nothing in the record indicates that Smith paid the judgment or attempted to arrange a payment schedule with Renter's. Thus, on May 17, 2017, Renter's filed a process of garnishment in the district court, and on May 18, 2017, a writ of garnishment was issued to Smith's employer. On June 12, 2017, Smith filed in the district court a motion to stay the garnishment, a verified declaration, and a claim of exemption. In her claim of exemption, Smith asserted that her biweekly wages were approximately $900 or less and that she used all of her income to pay current expenses for her family and herself. She said that she did not accumulate wages from paycheck to paycheck. Citing Art. 10, § 204, Ala. Const. 1901 ("§ 204"), Smith claimed that her wages were exempt from garnishment.

         The district court granted a stay on June 13, 2017. On June 15, 2017, Renter's filed an objection to Smith's claim of exemption, arguing, among other things, that Smith was barred from claiming wages as personal property subject to exemption by application of § 6-10-6.1, Ala. Code 1975, which had become law on June 11, 2015. Approximately one year after the objection was filed, after a number of hearings, the district court entered a judgment on June 27, 2018, denying Smith's claim of exemption and reinstating the writ of garnishment. On July 2, 2018, Smith appealed to the circuit court. The record created in the district court was made a part of the circuit court's record.

         On July 17, 2018, Smith filed in the circuit court a "response" to Renter's objection to her claim of exemption. In that response, Smith argued that her wages could be claimed as a personal exemption under § 204 and Alabama caselaw dating to 1884. Smith and Renter's each filed trial briefs in the circuit court regarding the constitutionality of § 6-10-6.1, which 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[, Ala. Code 1975, ] and Section 204 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901."

         On August 10, 2018, the circuit court held a hearing on Smith's claim of exemption and Renter's objection to the claim of exemption. On August 13, 2018, the circuit court entered a judgment stating that the attorneys for the parties had appeared before it on August 10, 2018, and had "consented to the Court rendering a decision on claim of exemption without further hearing." The circuit court then denied Smith's claim of exemption, citing § 6-10-6.1 and noting that that statute had become law before the writ of garnishment had been issued.

         Smith timely appealed the circuit court's August 10, 2018, judgment to this court. This court determined that Smith had served the attorney general with notice of her constitutional challenge to § 6-10-6.1, as required by § 6-6-227, Ala. Code 1975. However, the matter had proceeded to trial before the attorney general's office had had the opportunity to respond. Accordingly, on the authority of Armstrong v. Roger's Outdoor Sports, Inc., 581 So.2d 414 (Ala. 1990), this court remanded the case to the circuit court to allow the attorney general the opportunity to intervene in the action or to waive any right to intervene. The circuit court was instructed to render a valid judgment on the issue of the constitutionality of § 6-10-6.1. Smith I, __ So.3d at __.

         On remand, the attorney general's office waived any right to be heard in this matter. The circuit court held a hearing, and on August 12, 2019, it entered a judgment dismissing the garnishment and declaring § 6-10-6.1 unconstitutional. The circuit court stated that the statute "'represents an unconstitutional overreach by the legislature and a violation of the separation of powers principles.'" Smith v. Renter's Realty, [Ms. 2180304, Oct. 4, 2019] __ So.3d __, __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019)(opinion on return to remand)("Smith II").

         Because Smith had ultimately prevailed in the matter in the circuit court, she did not have an adverse ruling from which to appeal. Smith II, __ So.3d at __ . Accordingly, in Smith II, this court dismissed Smith's appeal of the circuit court's judgment.

         Upon the entry of the August 12, 2019, judgment, Renter's, which had previously been the prevailing party, had an adverse judgment from which it could appeal. On September 23, 2019, Renter's filed a timely appeal from that judgment. This court granted the parties' request to rely on the arguments set forth in their respective briefs and the ...

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