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Martinez v., Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

November 22, 2017

Alvaro Martinez, Jr., M.D., Appellant,
v., Inc., d/b/a Palm Beach Premier Real Estate, et al., Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 99-15258 Pedro P. Echarte, Jr., Judge.

          Barry S. Franklin & Associates, P.A., and Barry S. Franklin, for appellant.

          Padula Bennardo Levine, LLP, and Stephen J. Padula (Boca Raton), and Joshua S. Widlansky (Boca Raton), for appellee, Inc.

          Before ROTHENBERG, C.J., and SALTER and LINDSEY, JJ.

          LINDSEY, J.

         A former husband appeals an order finding a continuing writ of garnishment filed to collect on a final judgment against his former wife for attorney's fees incurred in post-dissolution litigation void ab initio. We agree with the trial court's finding and, for the reasons set forth below, affirm.

         The marriage between Alvaro Martinez, Jr. ("former husband") and Gia Martinez ("former wife") was dissolved in 2000. For almost a decade thereafter, the parties continued to remain embroiled in contentious litigation over issues including child custody and time sharing arrangements, parental responsibility and decision-making authority, health care, and school registration. In May of 2010, the trial court, having found the former husband entitled to attorney's fees incurred in litigating these issues, entered a final money judgment in the amount of $37, 081.00 plus statutory post-judgment interest accruing from April 21, 2010, the date of the court's order awarding post-judgment attorney's fees.

         Three years later, in furtherance of the former husband's efforts to collect on this final judgment, a continuing writ of garnishment against salary or wages ("continuing writ") was entered against the former wife's employer,, Inc. ("Garnishee"). The Garnishee filed an answer stating it employs the former wife at an annual salary of $30, 000.00 and acknowledging that, in an abundance of caution, $453.86 of her wages per month are subject to garnishment. The former husband then filed a reply denying that the former wife was a mere salaried employee and stating that her pay structure was changed solely to minimize his collection efforts. Thereafter, the Garnishee filed an amended answer, noting an additional withholding.[1] The former husband filed a reply to the amended answer, asserting that commissions and any other pecuniary benefits received by the former wife constituted wages subject to the continuing writ. The Garnishee kept the withholdings in a trust account. Three years after the continuing writ was issued, the Garnishee filed a motion entitled, Motion to Dismiss and/or Dissolve the Continuing Writ of Garnishment or, in the Alternative, Notice of Dissolution of the Continuing Writ of Garnishment ("motion to dismiss and/or dissolve"): (1) seeking dissolution of the continuing writ; (2) awarding the Garnishee entitlement to its reasonable attorney's fees and costs from the garnished funds; (3) allowing the Garnishee to return all remaining garnished funds (after fees and costs) to the former wife; and (4) setting a limited hearing on the amount of the Garnishee's attorney's fees and costs.

         The former husband then filed a motion for summary judgment on the Garnishee's amended answer asserting that the former husband is entitled to a continuing writ of garnishment until the amount in question is paid in full because the fees are in the nature of support and subject to the court's full contempt power and seeking attorney's fees pursuant to section 57.115, Florida Statutes (2016). The Garnishee filed a response in opposition, claiming that the judgment which forms the basis of garnishment is not in the "nature of support, " and thus a continuing writ of garnishment is not available to the former husband.

         The former husband also filed a response in opposition to the Garnishee's motion to dismiss and/or dissolve, contending that the Garnishee's argument that the attorney's fees debt is not in the nature of support is a red herring, but claiming that even so, the continuing writ was proper because the nature of the attorney's fees debt is indisputably for purely child related fees. The former husband further contended that the Garnishee's argument for attorney's fees and costs fails because the Garnishee is not a purely "innocent stakeholder, " and is, in effect, the "alter ego" of the former wife. Lastly, the former husband asserted that the Garnishee incurred unauthorized fees and failed to follow the court's order (the continuing writ) and remit any funds garnished from the former wife to the former husband.

         After a final evidentiary hearing, the trial court entered an order granting the Garnishee's motion to dismiss and/or dissolve, denying the former husband's motion for summary judgment and finding that the continuing writ was void ab initio. This appeal follows.[2]

         We review de novo orders construing statutes such as those controlling garnishment. Marquez v. Bluecare Home Health Svcs., 116 So.3d 563, 565 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013); Arnold, Matheny & Eagan, P.A. v. First Am. Holdings, Inc., 982 So.2d 628, 632 (Fla. 2008) (emphasis added) ("Because the issue requires this Court to interpret the statutory provisions of Florida garnishment law, we apply a de novo standard of review."). The standard of review of a summary judgment order is de novo and requires viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Sierra v. Shevin, 767 So.2d 524, 525 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000).

         Garnishment proceedings are governed by statute and must be strictly construed. Marquez, 116 So.3d at 565 (citing Williams v. Espirito Santo Bank of Fla., 656 So.2d 212, 213 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995)). "The cardinal rule of statutory construction is 'that a statute should be construed so as to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the Legislature as expressed in the statute.'" Reeves v. State, 957 So.2d 625, 629 (Fla. 2007) (citing City of Tampa v. Thatcher Glass Corp., 445 So.2d 578, 579 (Fla. 1984)). Furthermore, "courts must construe statutes to give each word effect, without limiting the statute's words or adding words not placed there by the legislature." Miami Stage Lighting v. Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., 712 So.2d 1135, 1137 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998) (emphasis added) (citing, among others, Reyf v. Reyf, 620 So.2d 218 (Fla. 3d DCA 1993)). Florida courts are without power to construe an unambiguous statute in a way that would extend, modify, or limit its express terms or its reasonable and obvious implications because to do so would be an abrogation of legislative power. Holly v. Auld, 450 So.2d 217, 219 (Fla. ...

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