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United States v. Baxter

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

May 15, 2019

KYLE BAXTER, Defendant Judgment Debtor, and PRESTIGE CARE, INC., Garnishee.


          Benjamin H. Settle, United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant / Judgment Debtor Kyle Baxter's (“Baxter”) objection to the United States' motion for writ of continuing garnishment. Dkt. 8. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby denies Baxter's objection and request for a hearing for the reasons stated herein.


         On July 3, 2014, the United States filed a felony information charging Baxter with one count of making false, fictitious, and fraudulent claims to the Government, relating to his filing of false tax returns. See United States v. Baxter, No. 14-cr-5296-1 RJB, Dkt. 1. On July 11, 2014, Baxter waived formal indictment and pled guilty to the charge. Id., Dkts. 4-8. On October 16, 2014, the Honorable Robert J. Bryan entered judgment, ordering Baxter to pay restitution in the amount of $255, 033 to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). Id., Dkt. 23 at 5.

         On November 6, 2018, the United States applied for a writ of continuing garnishment (“garnishment”). Dkt. 1. The United States sought the garnishment to recover funds from distributions of Baxter's wages in order to collect the remaining restitution balance, which was approximately $242, 000 when this action was filed. Id.

         On November 8, 2018, the Court entered an Order to issue a writ of continuing garnishment to garnishee Prestige Care, Inc (“Prestige”). Dkts. 3, 4. On November 26, 2018, Prestige answered the garnishment, asserting that it employs Baxter and disburses wages to him on a bi-weekly basis. Dkt. 7 at 2.

         On December 6, 2018, Baxter filed a letter and a Request for Hearing form (“objection”), asking to reduce the amount of the Garnishment from 25 percent to 13 percent of his disposable earnings due to financial hardship. See Dkts. 8, 8-1. Baxter asserts that he supports two children, owes $60 a month in child support, and drives nearly 100 miles each day commuting to work, which has become more expensive with rising gas prices. Dkt. 8. Baxter also claimed three property exemptions to the garnishment. Dkt. 8-1. On February 28, 2019, the United States responded, Dkt. 10, and filed a supporting declaration which included twenty pages of Baxter's redacted financial records. Dkts. 11, 11-1.


         The United States is authorized to enforce any restitution order imposed as part of a criminal sentence by using its powers under the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act, 28 U.S.C. § 3001 et seq (“FDCPA”). Under the FDCPA, a judgment debtor may contest garnishment proceedings by filing a request for a hearing and/or an objection to the garnishment. 28 U.S.C. § 3202(d); 28 U.S.C. § 3205(c)(5). Where the underlying judgment was not by default, a judgment debtor can obtain relief from garnishment on only two grounds: (1) that the property the United States is taking is exempt from garnishment; or (2) that the United States has not complied with the statutory requirements for the garnishment process. 28 U.S.C § 3202(d)(1)-(2); see also United States v. Webb, No. CR-10-1071-PHX-JAT (LOA), 2014 WL 2153954, at *4 (D. Ariz. May 15, 2014). The judgment debtor has the burden of proving that a basis for relief exists. 28 U.S.C. § 3205(c)(5). The Court examines each of Baxter's grounds for objection in turn.

         A. Financial Hardship

         Baxter first objects to the garnishment for financial hardship. See Dkt. 8 at 1 (“I am requesting that the Writ of garnishment be withheld at a lesser amount. . . . I do not live outside my means and am willing to pay off all debts. I am asking that I not be made Destitute [sic] by the 25% and only take 13%.”). The court may consider “the probable validity of any claim of exemption by the judgment debtor.” 28 U.S.C. § 3202(d).

         As a threshold issue, the United States argues that a claim of generalized financial hardship by a judgment debtor “is not a valid objection to the [g]arnishment” and should not be considered by the Court. Dkt. 10 at 4-5 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 3202(d)(1)-(2)). In support of its position, the United States cites authority demonstrating that “numerous courts-including this one-have consistently refused to consider claims of financial hardship” made by judgment debtors. Dkt. 10 at 5 (citing United States v. Lawrence, 538 F.Supp.2d 1188, 1194 (D.S.D. 2008) (limiting viable objections to garnishment to those listed in § 3202(d)) (collecting cases) and United States v. Skeins, No. C14-1457-JLR, 2014 WL 5324880 at *3 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 17, 2014) (finding that generalized financial hardship is not a valid objection)). Upon review of these authorities, the Court agrees that Baxter's asserted claim of financial hardship falls outside the scope of any property or right that is statutorily exempted from garnishment.[1] Therefore, Baxter fails to meet his burden to demonstrate that the property the United States seeks to take here-his wages-are exempt from garnishment based on his financial hardship. Webb, 2014 WL 2153954, at *4. Accordingly, Baxter's objection to the garnishment on this basis is denied.

         B. Claimed Property Exemptions

         Second, Baxter asserts that “the property the Government is taking is exempt” from garnishment. Dkt. 8-1 at 1. In his Request for Hearing form, Baxter claims three exemptions: “wearing apparel and school books, ” “fuel, provisions, furniture, and personal ...

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