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AGO 1957 No. 122 - September 26, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


The wage exemption statute (RCW 7.32.280) is applicable to garnishment proceedings in both superior and justice courts.

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                                                              September 26, 1957

Honorable Maloy Sensney
Prosecuting Attorney of Benton County
Fisk Building
Prosser, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 122

Attention:  Mr. Daniel J. Hurson, Deputy

Dear Sir:

            You have requested the opinion of this office on the following question:

            Does RCW 7.32.280, granting exemption of wages in garnishment proceedings, apply to justice courts?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            Your question arises because of RCW 7.32.310, which is derived from § 26, chapter 56, Laws of 1893.  The session law provides:

            "The provisions of this act [codified as RCW 7.32.010 through 7.32.050 and RCW 7.32.100 through 7.32.310] shall not apply to actions and proceedings before justices of the peace, but garnishments shall be made in such actions and proceedings in the manner now provided by existing laws."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            It is to be noted that the act referred to governs garnishment proceedings in superior court, and that the existing law governing garnishments in justice court at that time is found in Ballinger's Annotated Code, § 6600et seq., from which the present provisions found in chapter 12.32 RCW were eventually derived.

            Although RCW 7.32.310 refers to garnishments, included in chapter 7.32 RCW are the provisions under consideration relative to exemptions.  Both garnishments and exemptions are of statutory creation.  Van Moorhem v. Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Co., 169 Wash. 354; Kelley v. Butler, 182 Wash. 310.  However, they differ in nature, and a different rule of construction applies to each:  garnishment statutes are strictly construed(U.S. v.y Pacific Forwarding Co., 8 F. Supp. 647), while statutes granting exemptions are liberally construed.  (Kelley v. Butler, supra.)

            The basic legislation now incorporated within the exemption statute (RCW 7.32.280) has been amended four times since its first adoption as § 23, chapter 56, Laws of 1893.  (Cf. chapter 24, Laws of 1897; chapter 139, Laws of 1901; chapter 210, Laws of 1907; and chapter 287, Laws of 1927.)  In the 1901 amendment the final sentence stated that:

            ". . .  The provisions of this section shall apply to actions in the Superior Court or before justices of the peace."

            And the 1907 amendment added to the final sentence

            ". . . and shall govern exemptions of wages or salary to the exclusion of all other statutes or parts of statutes."

            In our opinion this indicates a clear legislative intent that the exemption provisions are separate and have no connection with the garnishment provisions contained in the same act.  However, it must be noted that in the last amendment of this section in 1927, when the exemption provision in its present form was enacted, the sentences quoted from the 1901 and 1907 acts were omitted.

            We believe that neither the above quoted provisions of the 1901 and 1907 acts nor their omission in the 1927 act were intended to change or limit the application of the exemption statute to justice courts.  Thus since the exemption was applicable prior to 1901, the 1901 and 1907 acts were merely a statutory declaration of this fact, and the elimination of this declaration did not alter or  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] change its original application.  Support for this conclusion is found in Amsbaugh v. Department of Labor and Industries, 128 Wash. 692, 696, where the court stated that

            ". . . language found in the original law neither added to nor took from it in any particular, and it was therefore quite proper to drop it in the recast of the section by the legislature . . ."

            It is our opinion that the language found in the 1901 and 1907 acts neither added to nor took from the original exemption act (§ 23, chapter 56, Laws of 1893) insofar as its application to justice courts is concerned, and it was therefore quite proper to eliminate such language subsequently.

            It should also be pointed out that the superior court has original jurisdiction in all civil proceedings, while the justice court exercises only concurrent jurisdiction in civil proceedings to $300.00.  (State ex rel. Shannon v. Hunter, 3 Wash. 92; RCW 3.20.020.)  Under such circumstances, it is difficult to conceive how exemption statutes, which should be liberally construed(Kelley v. Butler, supra), would apply in superior court and not in justice court, especially where a defendant might avail himself thereof by the simple expediency of appeal.

            For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the wage exemption statute (RCW 7.32.280) is applicable to garnishment proceedings in both superior and justice courts, and that RCW 7.32.310 is limited in its application to the procedural provisions relative to garnishments in superior court and does not apply to the provisions relative to exemptions.

            We trust this analysis will be helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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