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MACKEY ET AL. v. LANIER COLLECTION AGENCY & SERVICE

decided: June 17, 1988.

MACKEY ET AL
v.
LANIER COLLECTION AGENCY & SERVICE, INC.



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA.

White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Blackmun, O'connor, and Scalia, JJ., joined, post, p. 841.

Author: White

[ 486 U.S. Page 827]

 JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue here is whether and to what extent the Georgia statutes bearing on the garnishment of funds due to participants in ERISA employee welfare benefit plans are pre-empted by the federal statute which governs such plans.

I

Petitioners are the trustees of an employee benefit plan that provides vacation and holiday benefits to eligible employees in several southeastern States. The covered workers draw their vacation benefits from the plan annually. The plan is an "employee welfare benefit plan" as defined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U. S. C. § 1002(1).*fn1

Respondent is a collection agency. It sought and obtained money judgments against 23 plan participants who owed money to clients of respondent. To collect these money judgments,

[ 486 U.S. Page 828]

     respondent instituted an action in a Georgia trial court seeking to garnish the debtors' plan benefits. The trial court granted the garnishment request. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-21. The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a Georgia statute, Ga. Code Ann. § 18-4-22.1 (1982),*fn2 barring the garnishment of "[f]unds or benefits of [an] . . . employee benefit plan or program subject to . . . [ERISA]," exempted plan benefits from garnishment. 178 Ga. App. 467, 470, 343 S. E. 2d 492, 495 (1986).

The Georgia Supreme Court reversed. 256 Ga. 499, 350 S. E. 2d 439 (1986). It agreed that § 18-4-22.1 by its terms barred this garnishment action, but concluded that the section was pre-empted by ERISA "since it purports to regulate garnishment of ERISA funds and benefits, a matter specifically provided for" in the federal scheme. Id., at 501, 350 S. E. 2d, at 442. Through an analysis of ERISA's preemption provisions, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that Congress had not barred garnishment of employee welfare benefits, even though employee pension benefits were so protected. See 29 U. S. C. § 1056(d) (1982 ed. and Supp. IV). Since § 18-4-22.1 "prohibits that which the federal statute permits," the Georgia Supreme Court held, the state law was "in conflict with" the federal scheme, and therefore pre-empted by it. 256 Ga., at 501, 350 S. E. 2d, at 442. Consequently, the plan was subject to garnishment under the general state garnishment law, Ga. Code Ann. § 18-4-20 et seq. (1982 and Supp. 1987).

Because of conflicting decisions among the courts on the questions presented here, we granted certiorari. 483 U.S. 1004

[ 486 U.S. Page 829]

     (1987). We now affirm the Georgia Supreme Court's judgment.*fn3

II

ERISA § 514(a) pre-empts "any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan" covered by the statute. 29 U. S. C. § 1144(a). We believe that under our precedents, Ga. Code Ann. § 18-4-22.1 is such a state law.

The Georgia statute at issue here expressly refers to -- indeed, solely applies to -- ERISA employee benefit plans. See n. 2, supra. "A law 'relates to' an employee benefit plan, in the normal sense of the phrase, if it has a connection with or reference to such a plan." Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85, 96-97 (1983) (emphasis added). On several occasions since our decision in Shaw, we have reaffirmed this rule, concluding that state laws which make "reference to" ERISA plans are laws that "relate to" those plans within the meaning of § 514(a). See, e. g., Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 47-48 (1987); Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, 471 U.S. 724, 739 (1985). In fact, we have virtually taken it for granted that state laws which are "specifically designed to affect employee benefit plans" are pre-empted under § 514(a). Cf. Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, supra, at 47-48; Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., supra, at 98.

[ 486 U.S. Page 830]

     The possibility that § 18-4-22.1 was enacted by the Georgia Legislature to help effectuate ERISA's underlying purposes -- the view of the Georgia Court of Appeals below, see 178 Ga. App., at 467, 343 S. E. 2d, at 493 -- is not enough to save the state law from pre-emption. "The pre-emption provision [of § 514(a)] . . . displace[s] all state laws that fall within its sphere, even including state laws that are consistent with ERISA's substantive requirements." Metropolitan Page 830} Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, supra, at 739. The decision in Shaw particularly underscores this point. There, we found a New York antidiscrimination statute pre-empted under § 514(a), even though Congress had not expressed any intent in ERISA to approve of the employment practices that the State had banned by its statute. Shaw, supra, at 97, n. 15, 98-99. Legislative "good intentions" do not save a state law within the broad pre-emptive scope of § 514(a).

Consequently, adhering to our precedents in this area, we hold that Ga. Code Ann. § 18-4-22.1, which singles out ERISA employee welfare benefit plans for different treatment under state garnishment procedures,*fn4 is pre-empted under § 514(a). The state statute's express reference to ERISA plans suffices to bring it within the federal law's pre-emptive reach.

III

A more complex question is posed by the argument of petitioners, rejected by the Georgia Supreme Court, that the entire Georgia garnishment procedure is pre-empted by ERISA. We reserved decision on the issue in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern California, 463 U.S. 1, 7, 26, n. 30 (1983); the question, which is one of federal law,*fn5 is a close

[ 486 U.S. Page 831]

     one. We believe, however, that petitioners' contention misapprehends ERISA's pre-emptive scope.

A

Unlike the Georgia antigarnishment provision discussed above, Georgia's general garnishment statute does not single out or specially mention ERISA plans of any kind. But as we have recognized, the pre-emptive force of § 514(a) is not limited to such state laws. See, e. g., Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, supra, at 47-48, and Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., supra, at 98. Consequently, we must decide whether § 514(a) pre-empts ...


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