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Mechanics Finance Co. v. Austin

Decided: January 28, 1952.

MECHANICS FINANCE CO., A BODY CORPORATE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PERCY AUSTIN, DEFENDANT, AND THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY, LIKEWISE A BODY CORPORATE, GARNISHEE-RESPONDENT. MECHANICS FINANCE CO., A BODY CORPORATE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, V. JOHN MCELROY, DEFENDANT, AND THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY, LIKEWISE A BODY CORPORATE, GARNISHEE-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, whose opinion is reported in 11 N.J. Super. 399.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For affirmance -- Justices Case and Oliphant. The opinion of the court was delivered by Heher, J.

Heher

We are concerned here with the construction of R.S. 2:32-180, as amended by chapter 73 of the Session Laws of 1943 (Pamph. L., p. 282), providing that when a judgment has been recovered in a district court of New Jersey, and "any wages, debts, earnings, salary, income from trust funds or profits are due and owing to the judgment debtor, or shall thereafter become due and owing to him," in an amount as therein specified, the judgment creditor may "without notice to the judgment debtor, apply to the court in which the judgment was recovered, and, upon satisfactory proofs of such facts by affidavits or otherwise, the court shall grant an order directing" the issuance of an execution against such weekly income.

Each of the judgment debtors was at the time of the recovery of the judgment and still is a resident of New Jersey. Each was then and still is employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, a foreign corporation authorized to do business in New Jersey. In each case the employment situs was in New York at the time of the entry of the judgment, and is still there. There, the service was and is now being rendered; and it is stipulated that "the wages sought to be garnisheed were both earned and paid outside" New Jersey. In each case the order for the wage execution was entered after notice to the judgment debtor pursuant to Rule 7:11-5. The garnishee thereupon moved to vacate the orders on the ground that it is a non-resident and the wages of the judgment debtors are not within "the reach and jurisdiction" of the court.

The Appellate Division set aside the orders on the theory that there had been legislative acquiescence by inaction in the holding of the old Supreme Court in Continental Purchasing Company v. Williams, 132 N.J.L. 445 (Sup. Ct. 1945) that nonresident garnishees are not within the terms of the cited statute and there was no "jurisdiction over them." 11 N.J. Super. 399. The cases are here by certification granted at the instance of the plaintiff judgment creditor.

The power of the Legislature to extend the particular remedy to "nonresident" employers in circumstances such as these is not challenged. The insistence is that it has not done so by the statute under review. We take a different view. We perceive no distinction in this regard between resident employers and foreign corporate employers authorized to do business in New Jersey. The terms chosen to express the legislative purpose make no such classification; and the policy of the provision offers no rational ground for such differentiation. Quite the contrary. The remedial policy would not be served by the exclusion of a foreign corporate employer authorized to transact its business in New Jersey from the operation of the statute.

The corporate employer is not made a party to the proceeding for the purpose of adjudicating its own property rights or subjecting it to a judgment in personam. The wage execution merely directs the payment to the judgment creditor of moneys in the employer's hands, or thereafter to come to his hands, belonging to the judgment debtor; and there is no discernible reason of principle or policy why a foreign corporation whose right to do business in New Jersey is conditioned upon submission to the State's judicial process should not be subject to notice that, in accordance with the statute, moneys in its possession owing to the judgment debtor have been appropriated by judicial decree to the satisfaction of the judgment and as well to an order of compliance. The provision is applicable to all judgment debtors and their employers. As the law is written, such a distinction would be illusory. It is inadmissible in the absence of a specific qualification. The policy itself has no such inherent limitation. Although the employer here is not a citizen of or domiciled in New Jersey, there is residency in the State sufficient to subject it to the statutory process thus invoked. It is subject to the State's judicial power. A foreign corporation is amenable to the jurisdiction of the New Jersey courts in garnishment if it could itself be sued by its creditor in this State. McGregor v. Erie R.

Co., 35 N.J.L. 115 (Sup. Ct. 1871); National Fire Insurance Co. v. Chambers, 53 N.J. Eq. 468 (Ch. 1895); Harris v. Balk, 198 U.S. 215, 25 S. Ct. 625, 49 L. Ed. 1023 (1905); Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Allen, 58 W. Va. 388, 52 S.E. 465, 3 L.R.A. (N.S.) 608 (Sup. Ct. Apps. 1905).

The statute is in aid of the execution of judgments, and is to be liberally construed to suppress the mischief and advance remedy. Russell v. Mechanics Realty Co., 88 N.J.L. 532 (Sup. Ct. 1916); Harcum v. Green, 111 N.J.L. 129 (Sup. Ct. 1933); Passaic National Bank and Trust Co. v. Eelman, 116 N.J.L. 279 (Sup. Ct. 1936); Cowan v. Storms, 121 N.J.L. 336 (Sup. Ct. 1938). The manifest reason of the provision is to render income of the prescribed classes available for the enforcement of judgments; and therein lies the key to its understanding. The motive which led to the making of the law is the surest means of its own exposition. Valenti v. Board of Review of Unemployment Compensation Commission, 4 N.J. 287 (1950); City Affairs Committee of Jersey City v. Division of Local Government, 134 N.J.L. 198 (Sup. Ct. 1946); Ross v. Miller, 115 N.J.L. 61 (Sup. Ct. 1935). There must needs be a rational interpretation to serve the end plainly in view.

Citing Trapp v. Brown, 93 N.J.L. 172 (E. & A. 1919), the corporate employer urges a strict construction of the act as a measure in derogation of the common-law "rights of the debtor." But the case has particular reference to the taking from the judgment debtor "without notice, and without a hearing, property" which but for the statute would be "exempt from execution." It would be an artificial and unreal explication, distortive of the obvious intent, that would classify judgment debtors on the basis of their employment by domestic and foreign corporations doing business in New Jersey and subject to its judicial process, and grant the remedy in the one case ...


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