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Ohio: Garnishment from Exempt Funds in Prison Account States Mandamus Claim

The Ohio Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s mandamus claims related to the garnishment of exempt funds in her prison account.

Ohio state prisoner Agatha Martin Williams was sentenced to 102 months and ordered to pay $166,354.94 in restitution plus a $27,500 fine.

On March 1, 2011, Williams began receiving monthly pension checks in the amount of $412.18 as part of a lifetime pension benefit. The checks were deposited directly into a checking account that Williams shared with her adult daughter, who occasionally transferred portions of those funds into her mother’s prison account.

In December 2012, Williams was served with a garnishment order seeking to attach funds from her prison account to pay the restitution judgment. She alerted prison officials that the funds in her account were pension benefits, which are exempt from attachment under R.C. 2329.66.

Prison officials denied Williams’ objections, placed her account on legal-hold status and allowed her only $25 per month to spend at the commissary. Further, they ordered that beginning in January 2013, any amount in her account in excess of $25 would be sent to the Stark County Clerk of Courts to pay her financial obligations.

Williams filed a state court action seeking various forms of relief, including claims for mandamus relief. The Ohio Court of Appeals dismissed her case.

The state Supreme Court reversed, holding that the lower court erred in dismissing the mandamus claims without giving Williams an opportunity to brief them.

Noting that R.C. 2329.66(A)(10) exempts certain pension benefits from garnishment or attachment, the Court explained that it had previously held such funds do not lose their exempt status when deposited in an account. See: Daugherty v. Cent. Trust Co. of Northeastern Ohio, NA.,28 Ohio St.3d 441, 504 N.E.2d 1100 (Ohio 1986).

“Because Williams has a colorable argument that the funds in her inmate account are exempt from attachment, the court of appeals erred in dismissing Williams’s mandamus claim, sua sponte, on the merits,” the Ohio Supreme Court wrote. “Her arguments are not frivolous, nor is it true that she ‘obviously cannot prevail on the facts alleged in the complaint.’”

Reconsideration was denied by the Supreme Court in December 2015, and a motion to stay, following remand, was denied on December 28, 2016. See: State ex rel Williams v. Trim,145 Ohio St.3d 204, 48 N.E.3d 501 (Ohio 2015). 


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Related legal cases

State ex rel Williams v. Trim

Daugherty v. Cent. Trust Co. of Northeastern Ohio, NA