539 F.2d 1355 (5th Cir. 1976), 75-1460, Brown v. Liberty Loan Corp. of Duval

Docket Nº:75-1460.
Citation:539 F.2d 1355
Party Name:Etta Jane BROWN, Individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. LIBERTY LOAN CORPORATION OF DUVAL, and S. Morgan Slaughter, as Clerk of theCircuit and County Courts of Duval County, Florida, Defendants, State of Florida, Intervenor-Appellant.
Case Date:October 06, 1976
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 1355

539 F.2d 1355 (5th Cir. 1976)

Etta Jane BROWN, Individually, and on behalf of all others

similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

LIBERTY LOAN CORPORATION OF DUVAL, and S. Morgan Slaughter,

as Clerk of theCircuit and County Courts of Duval

County, Florida, Defendants,

State of Florida, Intervenor-Appellant.

No. 75-1460.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 6, 1976

Page 1356

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1357

Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., Dept. of Legal Affairs, Civ. Div., Thomas A. Harris, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, Fla., for intervenor-appellant.

Steven M. Goldstein, Fla. State Univ., Tallahassee, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Frank X. Friedmann, Jr., Jacksonville, Fla., for Liberty Loan Corp., Etc.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before WISDOM and MORGAN, Circuit Judges, and LYNNE, District Judge.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

The State of Florida appeals from a district court's declaratory judgment holding §§ 77.01, 77.03, and 222.12, Florida Statutes, 1 unconstitutional as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution insofar as they permit the postjudgment garnishment of an individual's wages without first providing that individual with notice of and an opportunity for a hearing to contest the propriety of the garnishment. This holding must be reversed as an erroneous application of constitutional principles to the statutory scheme in question. Before dealing with the constitutional issue, we set forth the salient facts and discuss the preliminary issues relating to mootness, three-judge courts, and abstention. Our decision on the merits makes it unnecessary for us to consider the appellant's contention that the class certified by the district court was overinclusive as to persons who have already had their wages garnished and their claim to exemption determined or who may have their wages garnished in the future.

I.

INTRODUCTION

On July 13, 1973, a judgment in the amount of $646.03 was entered in the Duval County Court, Florida, in favor of Liberty Loan Corporation (Liberty) against Etta Jane and her husband, Saul F. Brown. Twelve days later, upon Liberty's motion, S. Morgan Slaughter, the Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts of Duval County, issued a writ of garnishment pursuant to §§ 77.01 and 77.03. The writ required Etta Jane Brown's employer to withhold a portion of her wages. Brown did not receive actual or constructive notice of the institution of the

Page 1358

garnishment proceedings before or at the time of service of the writ of garnishment on her employer. On the day the writ was served, Brown filed an affidavit of exemption pursuant to § 222.12, stating that she was the head of a family residing in Florida and that the money attached was for personal labor and services. The following day, July 27, 1973, Liberty filed an affidavit denying the affidavit of exemption. After a hearing on August 10, 1973, the county court found that Brown qualified for the § 222.12 exemption and dissolved the writ of garnishment.

On August 9, 1973, one day before the writ of garnishment was dissolved, Brown brought a class action in federal district court alleging that §§ 77.01 and 77.03, and the actions of Liberty and S. Morgan Slaughter taken under those sections violated her due process rights. The complaint requested declaratory relief. She later amended the complaint adding § 222.12 to those already challenged and including a prayer for money damages. At this time the district court permitted the State of Florida to intervene as a party-defendant.

After pre-trial motions, the case was tried on stipulated facts. The district court entered a declaratory judgment in favor of the class plaintiffs and awarded money damages to Brown. The original defendants, Liberty and Slaughter, have not appealed that decision.

II.

MOOTNESS

The appellee, Etta Jane Brown, contends that this action is moot. She points to the promulgation of an administrative order by the Circuit Court of the Fourth Judicial District of Florida which is designed to bring Duval County's postjudgment garnishment procedures in line with the constitutional requirements implicit in the district court's declaratory judgment. Brown also notes that the original defendants, Liberty and Slaughter, have not appealed. Finally, she observes that the class plaintiffs consisted only of residents of Duval County who were or might be subject to garnishment proceedings. Drawing from these circumstances, Brown concludes that the essential controversy in this case is limited to Duval County in all respects and is now extinguished.

An actual case or controversy must exist, of course, when a suit is instituted and at all stages of appellate review in order to avoid mootness. See De Funis v. Odegaard, 1974, 416 U.S. 312, 319, 94 S.Ct. 1704, 1707, 40 L.Ed.2d 164, 170; McDonald v. Oliver, 5 Cir. 1976, 525 F.2d 1217, 1225. The posture of this case on appeal convinces us that the underlying controversy is still alive.

The unpersuasiveness of Brown's argument is evident in her mischaracterization of the purported reach of the district court's declaratory judgment. The contention that this judgment affects only the postjudgment garnishment procedures of Duval County ignores the district court's holding that §§ 77.01, 77.03, and 222.12 are facially unconstitutional. Those provisions were not invalidated only insofar as they apply or are carried out in Duval County. Although the state and its officers are not enjoined from enforcing these provisions, the state's interest in seeking appellate review is patently concrete and non-trivial. It vigorously contests the correctness of the district court's decision and seeks a reversal that will allow its statute to stand untainted. The basic state interest is in having its enactments reconciled with federal constitutional requirements.

We find that a continuing controversy exists in this case. Brown has obtained a declaratory judgment and money damages by successfully attacking the constitutionality of state statutes. The State of Florida, a proper party-defendant, seeks to defeat that judgment by obtaining a reversal on several issues, including the constitutional one. The battle lines are drawn.

III.

THREE-JUDGE COURT

The state offers two grounds which would make unnecessary a decision on the

Page 1359

merits. It contends first that 28 U.S.C. § 2281 required the empanelling of a three-judge court in this case. That statute provides as follows:

An interlocutory or permanent injunction restraining the enforcement, operation or execution of any State statute by restraining the action of any officer of such State in the enforcement or execution of such statute or of an order made by an administrative board or commission acting under State statutes, shall not be granted by any district court or judge thereof upon the ground of the unconstitutionality of such statute unless the application therefor is heard and determined by a district court of three judges under section 2284 of this title.

The appellant's argument that § 2281 is applicable rests upon the premise that the declaratory judgment rendered by the district court has virtually the same effect as a formal injunction under the facts of this case. Florida notes that the class plaintiffs include all Duval County residents who may have their wages garnished in the future under the contested garnishment procedure. That factor and the non-availability of a "good faith" defense to civil rights liability on the part of a clerk of a county or state circuit court in the wake of the district court's decision assertedly combine to restrain enforcement of the statutory postjudgment garnishment scheme in the same manner as an injunction would. Florida urges that this kind of interdiction by a single judge of statutes of state-wide application is the precise harm Congress intended to prevent by enactment of § 2281.

It is argued by Florida that the case law bearing on this question is unsettled. Florida concedes that Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 1963, 372 U.S. 144, 83 S.Ct. 554, 9 L.Ed.2d 644, and Whatley v. Clark, 5 Cir. 1973, 482 F.2d 1230, held, respectively, that a three-judge court was unnecessary for the determination of a constitutional challenge to a federal or state statute when only declaratory relief was requested. But it contends that neither the Supreme Court nor this Court has specifically held that such a suit seeking only declaratory relief would never require a three-judge court.

We are cognizant of the Supreme Court's reservation of the issue "(w)hether an action for declaratory relief would under all circumstances be inappropriate for consideration by a three judge court" in Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. at 154, 83 S.Ct. at 560, 9 L.Ed.2d at 652. In Sands v. Wainwright, 5 Cir. 1973, 491 F.2d 417, 422 (en banc), cert. denied, Guajardo v. Estelle, 1974, 416 U.S. 992, 94 S.Ct. 2403, 40 L.Ed.2d 771, we remarked that a three-judge court is generally not required when only declaratory relief is sought. The implicit opening for later litigants to test the contours of possible exceptions to the general rule was thus created.

The appellant urges us to view the declaratory judgment rendered in this case as having a sufficiently injunctive effect to necessitate the convening of a three-judge court. We feel constrained, however, to reject that suggestion. The authority of Sands is an obstacle the appellant fails to surmount. 2 Although it is true that the Supreme Court in Mendoza-Martinez dealt with declaratory relief in the context of a challenge to a federal statute and the requirement for convening a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2282, we expressly endorsed in Sands, see 491 F.2d at 422, the view of the Second Circuit that an action seeking...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP