October 20, 2011
CHRYSLER FINANCIAL SERVICES AMERICAS LLC D/B/A CHRYSLER FINANCIAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
SALLY J. PROVENZANO, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. DC-029415-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 4, 2011
Before Judges Yannotti and Kennedy.
Plaintiff, Chrysler Financial Services Americas, LLC, appeals from an order entered by the trial court on December 9, 2010, which applied the $1,000 exemption from execution, see N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19, to plaintiff's wage execution against defendant pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:17-53. Plaintiff contends the statutory $1,000 exemption does not apply to statutory wage executions. We disagree and confirm the trial court's order.
Plaintiff obtained a default judgment against defendant for $3,484.51 and thereafter applied for and received an order for execution against defendant's wages. Prior to service of the wage execution upon defendant's employer, the parties agreed to the entry of a consent order whereby defendant agreed to pay $100 per month out of income to satisfy the judgment. When defendant failed to abide by the terms of the consent order, plaintiff notified defendant it was proceeding with the wage execution.
Defendant filed an objection to the wage execution in which she alleged financial hardship. Plaintiff replied to the objection but elected not to appear at the hearing held on December 9, 2010. After considering the writings submitted by the parties, as well as defendant's arguments on the record, the court entered an order reducing the wage execution to five per cent and granting a "$1,000 lifetime exemption."
Plaintiff does not challenge the reduction or the factual basis for the court's order. Rather, plaintiff claims on appeal that the exemptions from execution provided for under N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19 cannot be employed to offset a wage execution under N.J.S.A. 2A:17-53. Plaintiff argues that because N.J.S.A. 2A:17-53 specifically governs wage executions and provides that employers presented with a wage execution shall pay the amount prescribed in the order "until such execution shall be wholly satisfied", the "more general execution statute", N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19, is necessarily "supersede[d]." We disagree.
N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19 provides in pertinent part:
Goods and chattels, shares of stock or interests in any corporation and personal property of every kind, not exceeding in value, exclusive of wearing apparel, $1,000.00, and all wearing apparel, the property of a debtor shall be reserved, both before and after his death, for his use or that of his family or his estate, and shall not be liable to be seized or taken by virtue of any execution or civil process whatever, issued out of any court of this State.
N.J.S.A. 2A:17-53 provides generally that any person "indebted" to the judgment debtor, to whom a wage execution is presented, shall pay over "such amount of such indebtedness as such execution shall prescribe" until the execution shall be "wholly satisfied."
Initially, we observe that there is nothing in N.J.S.A. 2A:17-53 which suggests that it "supersedes" N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19. By its express terms, N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19 applies to "any execution...whatever." Such plain and expansive language does not support plaintiff's contention that the Legislature intended the statue to apply to all executions except a wage execution.
"'The Legislature's intent is the paramount goal when interpreting a statute and, generally, the best indicator of that intent is the statutory language.'" Soto v. Scaringelli, 189 N.J. 558, 569 (2007) (quoting DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 492 (2005)). A court should "'ascribe to the statutory words their ordinary meaning and significance, and read them in context with related provisions so as to give sense to the legislation as a whole.'" Ibid. (quoting DiProspero, supra, 183 N.J. at 492). We should try to give effect to every word of the statute, should not assume that the Legislature used meaningless language, and, lastly, avoid an interpretation that would render part of it superfluous. Medical Soc. of N.J. v. N.J. Dep't of Law & Public Safety, 120 N.J. 18, 26-27 (1990); See also Paper Mill Playhouse v. Millburn Township, 95 N.J. 503, 521 (1984).
Clearly, employing the principles of construction referenced above, a wage execution is encompassed by the broad phrase "any execution or civil process whatever" as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19. Similarly, money owed to a judgment debtor is included within the phrase "personal property of every kind." See Charlton v. Mitchell, 121 N.J.L. 285, 287 (Sup. Ct. 1938) (fees owed to counsel for work performed and held by a client are personal property subject to the exemption). Accordingly, there is no reason in law or logic why the exemption provided for by N.J.S.A. 2A:17-19 should not be applied to wages owed, if such exemption is duly claimed by the judgment debtor.
We note that application of the claimed exemption does not "reduce" the judgment. Rather, once defendant has received the benefit of wage payments totaling $1,000 subject to the exemption, the execution shall thereafter proceed in the usual course against her wages until the execution "shall be wholly satisfied." N.J.S.A. 2A:17-53.
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