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UNITED STATES v. MILLER

July 14, 1955

UNITED STATES of America
v.
Paul B. MILLER and Mildred E. Miller, his wife



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD

This action is before the Court on objections of defendant, Paul B. Miller, to an Attachment Sur Judgment. The defendant argues that his wages may not be attached for debt.

Defendants borrowed $ 3,500 from the United States Department of Agriculture on two Farmer's Home Loans. They signed Bonds and agreed to repay the debts by installments. Defendants defaulted in their obligations. Efforts to recover full collection were unsuccessful.

 On October 23, 1953, Judgment by Confession was entered in this Court. When additional time payments were not forthcoming, the plaintiff, on March 9, 1955, filed a Praecipe for a Writ of Execution upon which the Clerk issued an Attachment Sur Judgment, making the defendant-husband's employer a garnishee. Defendant, Paul B. Miller, now requests this Court to dissolve the garnishment proceedings because of a Pennsylvania Statute prohibiting attachment of wages. *fn1"

 The question is: Can the United States attach wages of one of its debtors in Pennsylvania, in the presence of the above-cited prohibitory statute of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

 There is no controversy between the parties over the fact that under the common law of Pennsylvania, creditors could attach wages. Also, there is no federal statute which prohibits the United States from garnishing the wages of a debtor. Consequently, the only possible block of such action is the Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

 This Court knows of no authority which permits a state legislature to bind the sovereign, the United States of America. Justice Story, in United States v. Hoar, C.C.D.Mass. 1821, 26 Fed.Cas. page 329, No. 15,373, ruled that without authority from the National Legislature, the State Legislature could not bind the United States. He stated, 26 Fed.Cas. at page 329:

 '* * * It has not been denied, and indeed is too plain for argument, that the statutes of limitations of Massachusetts cannot proprio vigore bind or bar the suits of the national government in the national courts. If such an effect can be attributed to them, it can only be by reason of some extension of them for this purpose, by the national legislature. * * * For it is said, that, where as statute is general, and thereby any prerogative, right, title, or interest is divested or taken from the king, in such case the king shall not be bound, unless the statute is made by express words to extend to him. Bac. Abr. 'Prerogative,' E. 5. And, accordingly, it was ruled in the Case of Magdalen College, 11 Cooke, 68, 74b, 1 Rolle, 151, that 'the king has a prerogative, quod nullum tempus occurrit regi, and, therefore, the general acts of limitation, or of plenarty, shall not extend to him.' * * *'

 And further 26 Fed.Cas. at page 330:

 '* * * And if a construction could ever be justified, which should include the United States, at the same time, that it excluded the state, it is not to be presumed, that congress could intend to sanction an usurpation of power by a state to regulate and control the rights of the United States. In the language of the act of 1789, it would not be a case, where the laws of the state could apply. The mischiefs, too, of such a construction, would be very great. The public rights, revenue, and property would be subject to the arbitrary limitations of the states; * * *.'

 The Hoar case was cited with approval in United States v. Summerlin, 1940, 310 U.S. 414, 60 S. Ct. 1019, 84 L. Ed. 1283.

 In United States v. Hewes, D.C.E.D.Pa.1840, 26 Fed.Cas. page 297, No. 15,359, it was held that the general words of a statute (even a federal statute) do not bind the sovereign. In declaring that a federal statute abolishing imprisonment for debt did not apply to the United States, as a creditor, the Court stated, 26 Fed.Cas. at page 298:

 '* * * This is a question of grave importance to the government of the United States, as it may affect their securities for the public revenue, and their remedies against their various and numerous agents, who are receivers of the public money. * * *'

 And 26 Fed.Cas. at page 301:


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