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DOUGLAS v. DONOVAN

January 18, 1982

John DOUGLAS, Plaintiff,
v.
Raymond J. DONOVAN, Secretary of Labor, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PENN

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction which would prohibit the defendant, the Secretary of Labor* from honoring a garnishment made against benefits paid to him pursuant to the provisions of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq. Plaintiff contends that FECA benefits are not subject to garnishment under 42 U.S.C. § 659.

 The case is now before the Court on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's motion to dismiss.

 I

 In April 1973, the plaintiff's treating physician recommended follow-up neurological testing in Beirut, Lebanon, and plaintiff's final mission in Amman, Jordan. Thereafter, plaintiff was hospitalized for several weeks and had surgery. He received further treatment in the United States in November 1973 for evaluation of hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, kidney stones, and other ailments.

 The plaintiff retired in December 1973 on an annuity from the United States Civil Service. He requested work related compensation benefits under the FECA for his injuries of March 29, 1973. In April 1975 he was informed that his compensation claim had been approved. The approval was for "multiple scalp lacerations, contusion of the head, mild brain contusion, contusion of the arms, torso and buttocks, concussion syndrome and traumatic neurosis" and he was further informed that payments would include "compensation for actual wage loss sustained as a result of those conditions and medical treatment for the effects of disability". Since he was receiving disability payments under the Civil Service Retirement Act, he was required to make an election of benefits.

 The plaintiff informed the Office of Workers' Compensation Program that he elected to receive benefits under the FECA which then amounted to $ 1,739.50 per month, plus medical benefits, rather than his Civil Service benefits which amounted to $ 957.00 per month, without medical benefits for his injuries or actual wage loss capacity impairment. At the time his FECA claim was approved, he had accumulated compensation benefits retroactively to December 1973 in the amount of $ 35,705.11. The Civil Service benefits he had received in the amount of $ 17,568.00 were deducted from the above amount, resulting in a lump sum payment for retroactive compensation benefits in the amount of $ 18,137.11.

 Plaintiff has continued to receive treatment and has been hospitalized from time to time. At the time this action was filed, plaintiff was in a hospital in Bangkok suffering from a nervous breakdown. He had previously suffered a nervous breakdown in 1975.

 The plaintiff was married to Huguette Douglas and they have five children. They divorced in 1969 pursuant to a decree entered in the District Court of Iowa, in and for Woodbury County (No. 89477 Equity). Under the terms of a stipulation entered into between the plaintiff and his wife, she received custody of the children and he was required to pay alimony in the amount of $ 500 per month and child support of $ 50 per month per child. Mrs. Douglas also received title to real estate located in Paris and Cannes, France, and in Tangier. She also received the family automobile and all personal property and furnishings. Compl. Ex. 3.

 It appears that plaintiff failed to make his full alimony and child support payments. His former wife received a judgment and requested a writ of attachment or garnishment against his FECA benefits in 1977. At that time the Department of Labor (DOL) refused to honor the garnishment, taking the position that the FECA benefits were subject to garnishment only to the extent that such benefits are garnishable to satisfy alimony and child support payments in the state whose court issued the garnishment order. Subsequently, in June 1980, Mrs. Douglas updated her claim and again attempted to attach a portion of plaintiff's FECA payments. DOL, in an apparent change of position, honored the garnishment. Her judgment amounted to over.$ 19,000. $ 1,504 per month was garnished for past alimony and child support leaving plaintiff with $ 1,231 per month for his own support and maintenance. In this connection, it is noted that plaintiff has contended that at times he may have sent payments directly to his children and his wife, however, that information is not reflected in the court records. Notwithstanding the above, or the somewhat confused breakdown of the judgment in excess of.$ 19,000, it seems clear that plaintiff is presently indebted for alimony and child support payments.

 Pending final disposition of this case, the Court required the defendant to deposit the disputed payment into the Registry of this Court in the amount of $ 1,504 per month.

 II

 The plaintiff, in his motion for summary judgment, has asked the Court to decide several issues. First, he asks the Court to determine whether FECA benefits are subject to garnishment and whether it was the intent of Congress to permit garnishment of compensation benefits for delinquent alimony and child support payments. Second, he asks that the Court determine whether the Iowa statutes specifically and expressly exempt compensation payments for creditors. Third, he argues that it is inconsistent with due process to allow the garnishment of 55 percent of his FECA benefit when the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), specifically 15 U.S.C. §§ 1671-1677, prohibits garnishment of any amount which exceeds 25 percent of a wage earner's income and where the Iowa statute purportedly incorporates the provisions of the CCPA. Fourth, he argues that ...


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