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United States v. Singh

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SURJIT SINGH and BEERA KAUR, Defendants and Alleged Judgment Debtors.

          ORDER OVERRULING DEFENDANT'S OBJECTION AND ISSUANCE OF FINAL ORDER OF GARNISHMENT (ECF NOS. 10, 12, 21, 22.)

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This dispute concerns the potential garnishment of cash in a bank account and the unknown contents of two safe deposit boxes held by Bank of America, as governed by the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act, 28 U.S.C. § 3205(b)(1).[1] Defendant Surjit Singh owes close to three million dollars in fines related to his criminal conviction. The U.S. contends Defendant Beera Kaur is Defendant Singh's wife, and so is jointly liable for the debt. Kaur objects to the Writ, that she is not married to Defendant Singh.

         Based on the record, the briefing and assertions at oral argument, the undersigned is persuaded that Beera Kaur and Defendant Surjit Singh are in fact married. Thus, the Court overrules Kaur's objections and grants the U.S.'s writ of garnishment.

         Background

         On November 9, 2018, Defendant Surjit Singh was sentenced in criminal case no. 2:13- cr-84-GEB (mortgage fraud), and was ordered to pay a $1200 penalty, a fine of $2 million and almost $700, 000 in restitution--Singh has only paid the $1200 fine. (ECF No. 1 at p. 2.) The U.S. filed an Application for a Writ of Garnishment under the FDCPA, believing that “Singh has an interest in bank, stock or brokerage account(s) and property . . . in the possession, custody or control of Bank of America, N.A.” (Id.) The Application detailed information concerning Defendant Singh, including the last four digits of his social security number and his last known address. (Id.) The Writ Application also stated the U.S.'s belief that Defendant Beera Kaur is Singh's spouse; and detailed information as well--including the last four digits of her social security number and last known address. (Id.) In the Application, the U.S. averred that since California is a community property state (see Cal. Fam. Code § 910), the writ should attach to any of Kaur's interests in Singh's property. (Id.)

         The Clerk of the Court issued the Writ, and Bank of America subsequently identified a checking account and two safe deposit boxes “in which Surjit Singh . . . or his spouse Beera Kaur maintains an interest . . . .” (ECF Nos. 3, 9-10.)

         Kaur objected to the writ, mainly arguing that she is not married to Defendant Surjit Singh. Kaur requested a hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 3205(c)(5). (ECF No. 10.) The crux of Kaur's argument is summarized in her response to the U.S.'s Request for Admissions, served in August 2019. Therein, Kaur admitted that “she was married to a Surjit Singh in India before coming to the United States, [but] that person is not the same person as Defendant Surjit Sing ....” (ECF No. 18-1 at p. 59, emphasis added.) Kaur argues that without evidence of a marriage, the U.S. hasn't met its burden of persuasion to show Singh and Kaur are married. The U.S. disagrees, relying on other documents to demonstrate the two are married.

         The Court set a hearing on the matter for June 13, 2018, but continued it multiple times at the parties requests for more briefing and investigation time. (See ECF Nos. 14, 16, 20.) Each party submitted what the Court construes as final briefing on the matter. (ECF Nos. 21, 22.)

         Legal Standard

         Pursuant to the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act,

[a] court may issue a writ of garnishment against property (including nonexempt disposable earnings) in which the debtor has a substantial nonexempt interest and which is in the possession, custody, or control of a person other than the debtor, in order to satisfy the judgment against the debtor. Co-owned property shall be subject to garnishment to the same extent as co-owned property is subject to garnishment under the law of the State in which such property is located.

28 U.S.C. § 3205(a). The statute notes that “property” includes any present interest in personal property, tangible or intangible, “wherever located and however held (including community property . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 3002(12); see also §3205(a) (providing that “[c]o-owned property shall be subject to garnishment to the same extent as co-owned property is subject to garnishment under the law of the State in which such property is located.”

         Under the FDCPA, the government is required to provide the judgment debtor with notice of the commencement of garnishment proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 3202(b). The judgment debtor has twenty days after receipt of the notice to request a hearing, thereby moving to quash the garnishment. 28 U.S.C. § 3202(d). If a garnishment hearing is held, the FDCPA expressly limits the issues to (1) “the probable validity of any claim of exemption by the judgment debtor;” (2) “compliance with any statutory requirement for the issuance of the post-judgment remedy granted; and (3) if the judgment is by default . . . to-(A) the probable validity of the claim for the debt which is merged in the judgment; and (B) the existence of good cause for setting aside such judgment.” Id. Of note, it is the objecting party's burden to prove the grounds for the objection. 28 U.S.C. § 3205(c)(5).

         Any of a judgment debtor's property subject to sale to satisfy the judgment may be sold by judicial sale, pursuant to sections 2001, 2002, and 2004 or by execution sale pursuant to section 3203(g). §3202(e). “If a hearing is requested pursuant to subsection (d), property with ...


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