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$50,000 Damage Award Garnished for Restitution Payment

The Oregon Court of Appeals, on June 28, 2017, upheld the garnishment of a prisoner’s $50,000 federal damage award as partial payment of her restitution judgment.

In 2009, Sandra Quesnoy was convicted of theft charges in Oregon and sentenced to 18 months in prison. The trial court imposed nearly $250,000 in restitution and ordered that $148,455.55 of the judgment would be referred to the Oregon Department of Revenue (DOR) for collection.

During her incarceration, Quesnoy was denied a wheelchair or walker while in segregation, which forced her to “crawl to her toilet” and “crawl to the sink if she wished to access water.” She said she suffered physical injuries from falling, and significant emotional distress and humiliation due to her mistreatment. She filed a federal lawsuit against prison officials, alleging they had discriminated against her on the basis of her disabilities, failed to accommodate her disabilities and retaliated against her for complaining about her treatment.

A federal jury returned a verdict for Quesnoy, awarding her $15,000 on the retaliation claim and $35,000 on the disability claims. The district court entered a supplemental judgment awarding Quesnoy $121,970.20 in attorney fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Her attorney, Katelyn S. Oldham, filed a notice of attorney’s lien against the supplemental judgment.

The DOR notified Quesnoy and Oldham of its intention to garnish the federal damage and attorney fee awards, due to Quesnoy’s outstanding restitution order. She argued that $10,000 of the $35,000 disability damage award was exempt from garnishment pursuant to ORS 18.345(1)(k), as it had been awarded for personal bodily injuries. Oldham claimed that the attorney fee award was exempt from garnishment.

Following a ruling by an administrative law judge, the DOR agreed that the Supremacy Clause preempted garnishment of the attorney fee award. With respect to the damage award, however, the agency found that Quesnoy failed to meet her burden of proving that she was entitled to the $10,000 “personal bodily injury” exemption. The DOR reasoned that the federal verdict granted relief for both physical and emotional injuries, but the jury did not indicate how much of the award was for physical injuries. It then issued a final order, concluding the DOR was entitled to garnish the $50,000 damage award but not the attorney fee award.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that “a person claiming an exemption from garnishment has the burden to prove entitlement to the exemption.” The Court agreed with the DOR that Quesnoy had not satisfied that burden because “no evidence in the record suggests what portion of [her] $35,000 damages award against the state was based on her ‘bodily injury’ as opposed to her mental anguish, anxiety, and humiliation.”

The appellate court noted that Quesnoy had “not disputed DOR’s assertion that part of the federal damages award may represent compensation for the mental harm that Quesnoy testified she suffered. Nor have petitioners challenged the legal basis for DOR’s argument – that damages for mental harm do not fall within the ORS 18.345(1)(k) ‘personal bodily injury’ exemption.” See: Quesnoy v. Department of Revenue, 286 Or. App. 359, 400 P.3d 960 (Or. App. 2017). 

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Related legal case

Quesnoy v. Department of Revenue