HUNT v. RICHMOND COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION.
-- March 04, 2013
John RydBush Long, John R. B. Long, P.C., Augusta, for appellant.Leonard O. Fletcher, Jr., Fletcher Harley & Fletcher LLP, Troy Allen Lanier, Tucker, Everitt, Long, Brewton & Lanier, & Lanier, Augusta, for appellee.
Margaret Hunt brings this appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Richmond County enjoining her from taking action to enforce a money judgment she secured in the Civil Court of Richmond County.1 For the reasons that follow, we reverse.
Hunt, a teacher, sued her former employer, the Richmond County Board of Education (“Board”) in the Civil Court of Richmond County for breach of contract, seeking $23,165.65 in damages. The parties stipulated to that amount as constituting damages, and, after a bench trial, the Civil Court of Richmond County entered judgment in that amount, plus prejudgment interest accruing from a certain date. Hunt calculated the total due from the Board to satisfy the judgment plus interest and fees to be $26,216.96. The Board prepared two checks, one apparently reflecting the interest and fees, and another one intended to reflect the award, treated as wage income, with various sums withheld to comply with state and federal law as to be reported on a federal Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Form W–2; thus, for this check, the award of $23,165.65 was reduced because of withholding to $15,223.72. Hunt objected to that treatment of the damages award, contending that the second check prepared by the Board should be for the full amount of the damages, and that the payment should be reported for tax purposes using an IRS Form 1099.
The parties could not agree on a course of action. The Board, hypothesizing that Hunt might proceed with collection methods such as garnishment and levy of the Board's assets, filed a petition in the Superior Court of Richmond County requesting temporary and permanent injunctions barring Hunt from attempting to collect or levy upon the Civil Court of Richmond County's judgment, contending that the Board was legally obligated to withhold certain money from any payment of wage income, citing 26 U.S.C. § 3401; Social Sec. Bd. v. Nierotko, 327 U.S. 358, 66 S.Ct. 637, 90 L.Ed. 718 (1946); and Appoloni v. United States, 450 F.3d 185 (6th Cir.2006). The superior court held a hearing the next day, during which the court stated that a temporary restraining order would be issued. The following day, another hearing was held, after which the superior court entered an order concluding that the judgment constituted an award of unpaid wages to Hunt and that the Board was therefore obligated under federal law to withhold certain amounts on such an award of wages; the order enjoined Hunt “from taking any action of any description to perfect, or collect, or levy upon, the Civil Court judgment,” and permitted the Board, under OCGA § 9–11–67,2 to deposit funds into the registry of the superior court sufficient to satisfy the Civil Court of Richmond County's judgment, which the Board did. No writ of fieri facias was issued before, or after, the superior court's order.
“A complaint in equity is not available if an ‘adequate remedy is provided at law.’ OCGA § 9–5–1.” Fulton Cnty. Taxpayers Found. v. Georgia Pub. Srvc. Comm., 287 Ga. 876, 880(4), 700 S.E.2d 554 (2010). The superior court's order is silent as to whether the Board had an adequate remedy at law, but it is apparent that ample legal remedies are provided to a litigant in the Board's position.
First, whether the damages at issue represented wages from which income tax had to be withheld and reported on a W–2 form could have been put in issue in the Civil Court of Richmond County, by either party, before the judgment was rendered.3 But, failing to raise the issue at trial did not end the Board's power to have the matter properly resolved by the court that rendered the judgment; the Board could have, certainly within the same term in which the judgment was entered, moved for clarification or amendment of the judgment.4 See De La Reza v. Osprey Capital, 287 Ga.App. 196, 197(1), 651 S.E.2d 97 (2007); Andrew L. Parks, Inc. v. SunTrust Bank etc., 248 Ga.App. 846, 847, 545 S.E.2d 31 (2001).5 The fact that the Board chose not to pursue such available remedies does not mean that a court of equity is then empowered to intervene. See Burson v. Faith, 227 Ga. 526, 529(3), 181 S.E.2d 827 (1971). Rather, this case shows the wisdom of the requirement that equity will not intervene if there is an adequate remedy at law; it would be contrary to the orderly administration of justice to allow a litigant to sleep upon its rights when a proper court renders a judgment and then, when the effect of that party's failure to follow the available remedies is about to have consequences, seek the intervention of a different court in equity. Having failed to avail itself of the available remedies in the Civil Court of Richmond County, the Board could not then attempt to secure its desired outcome in a different forum, in this case, the superior court.6
Additionally, the Board is afforded certain legal remedies if a judgment creditor seeks to improperly execute upon a judgment. The Board could become a party to any garnishment proceeding by filing a traverse to the plaintiff's affidavit executed in connection with the filing of the summons of garnishment, OCGA § 18–4–93, and could challenge the amount due under the judgment, although not the judgment's validity. See OCGA § 18–4–65. Had execution occurred, the Board could contest the execution by an affidavit of illegality under the provisions set forth in OCGA § 9–13–120 et seq. See Bosson v. Bosson, 117 Ga.App. 629, 161 S.E.2d 433 (1968). The existence of such remedies belies the superior court's conclusion that the Board faced irreparable harm from potential collection of the judgment rendered by the Civil Court of Richmond County.7 See Danbert v. North Ga. Land Ventures, 287 Ga. 495, 498(2), 697 S.E.2d 204 (2010); Garden Hills Civic Assn. v. MARTA, 273 Ga. 280, 282(1), 539 S.E.2d 811 (2000). In any event, no execution had occurred in this case, no writ of fieri facias had issued, and the mere apprehension of injury does not support the grant of an injunction. City of Willacoochee v. Satilla Rural Elec. Membership Corp., 283 Ga. 137, 138(1), 657 S.E.2d 232 (2008).8
All the Justices concur.