If you are in business long enough, chances are at some point you will be served with a summons and complaint for a garnishee action, an attempt to collect money from your business for a debt that someone else owes. While earnings garnishments are relatively common, non-earnings garnishments are less so and carry with them a stiff penalty for the garnishee if an answer is not filed.
For collection purposes, if a person (or company) has a judgment against them, they are known as the “debtor”. The “creditor” is the person or company owed the money. One tool that an attorney attempting to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor has is a non-earnings garnishment. In a non-earnings garnishment, the creditor files a summons and complaint naming the creditor, the debtor, and a garnishee.
If your company is named as the garnishee, you must file an answer which indicates whether or not your company has control or possession of property belonging to the debtor and the gross value of said property. This includes any money that your company may owe to the debtor.
With that action comes an order to hold all funds (or property) your company may owe to the debtor until instructed by the courts otherwise. If you, as the garnishee, fail to answer the Non-earnings Garnishment summons and complaint within 20 days of being served with the action, your company will have a judgment entered against it for the full amount of the judgment that the creditor has against the debtor.
For example, if you are served with a non-earnings garnishment which states that ABC Bank has a judgment against XYZ company for $200,000 and you are named as the garnishee; if you fail to answer (even if that answer would be that you do not have any property or money belonging to XYZ company) then ABC Bank will be entitled to a judgment against your company for the entire $200,000.
So, if you are served with a garnishment summons and complaint be sure to contact an attorney right away, as the penalty for ignoring such a request can be dire.
Sean M. Sweeney is a shareholder at Halling & Cayo. His practice focuses on business litigation, civil litigation, stock broker fraud, business transnational law, and real estate law. Sean represents investors, small business owners, and companies locally in Wisconsin, all over the United States, as well as internationally with clients in Canada, Germany, and Australia.
Email Sean: [email protected]