Fifth Circuit finds anti-attachment provision inapplicable;  threat of prosecution not “other legal process”
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Fifth Circuit finds anti-attachment provision inapplicable;  threat of prosecution not “other legal process”

By Payroll and Entitlements Editorial Staff

Generally, the Social Security Act protects benefits from execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process. Here, the beneficiary, a civilly committed sexual predator required to wear a GPS tracking device, argued that the pay-or-be-prosecuted penalty he faced from the State of Texas was a violation of the Act’s anti-attachment provision. The beneficiary’s only source of income was his disability benefits. He contended that requiring him to pay for his GPS monitoring under threat of criminal prosecution subjected his benefits to "other legal process" as prohibited by the statute. The Fifth Circuit considered the text of the statute and determined that the section needed to be read as a “whole phrase.” Moreover, the court looked to Supreme Court precedent and applied its holding to conclude that the threat of prosecution was not other legal process. Congress intended to protect beneficiaries from judicially enforced transfers. The threat of future action was not an exercise of judicial or quasi-judicial authority, as with levy, attachment, and garnishment. Therefore, criminalizing a sexual predator’s failure to pay for GPS monitoring was not other legal process as outlined in the Act. The decision of the district court was affirmed (Reed v. Taylor, CA-5, No. 17-20519, May 2, 2019).

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