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Garnishment Action in Federal Court to Collect Jury Award was Improper

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that garnishment actions are “suits” for Eleventh Amendment purposes. That holding compelled the appellate court to find a prisoner could not pursue a garnishment motion in federal court to redirect funds to satisfy a $200,000 judgment against a Georgia state prison guard.

David Cassady brought suit on January 21, 2014 against Steven Hall, a guard at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison; he alleged that in October 2010, “Hall physically and sexually attacked” him at the facility. The case proceeded to trial and the jury found Hall liable, awarding Cassady $150,000 in compensatory damages plus $50,000 in punitive damages.

After the district court entered the judgment, Cassady moved the court to issue a writ of garnishment, ordering the State of Georgia to redirect to him the funds the state was to pay Hall under Georgia’s General Liability Agreement (GLA), which indemnifies state employees for judgments arising out of the performance of their official duties.

The district court denied the motion, finding Georgia had not waived its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity with respect to garnishment actions. Alternatively, Hall’s indemnification rights under the GLA did not constitute a “property interest.”

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit noted Cassady sought the garnishment as a motion and not as a separate suit. Despite the nature of the action it still constituted “some claim, demand, or request” against the State of Georgia, and, as such, the motion was found to fall “within the Eleventh Amendment’s embrace.” Georgia had not waived its sovereign immunity with respect to the garnishment of state funds. Even if the state had waived immunity in its own courts with respect to garnishments, that did not establish a waiver of immunity in federal courts.

The motion therefore failed for those reasons and because Congress had not “clearly abrogated Georgia’s immunity to garnishment actions.” Alternatively, Cassady could file an action against Hall in state court seeking garnishment to satisfy the jury award. The district court’s order was affirmed. See: Cassady v. Hall, 892 F.3d 1150 (11th Cir. 2018). 


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Related legal case

Cassady v. Hall