Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford
(with first initial, no space for Sullivan, Dorsey, and
Walsh): Santos, Thelma A., J.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
A. SANTOS, J.
warrant was issued by the Department of Revenue Services
naming Carolyn Coleman as the Debtor and Wells Fargo Bank as
the banking institution in which Ms. Coleman had funds in
three separate accounts. On January 4, 2016, a total of $4,
164.54 was removed by Wells Fargo Bank from these accounts
which were numbered #0484, #9667 and #6865. That total amount
was made up in its entirety of social security payments made
to Ms. Coleman. $3, 250.48 was removed from one of the
accounts and the remaining $914.06 from the other two. Since
each of these amounts was under $1, 000 they both would have
been amenable to the " wild card"
exemption. On January 5, 2016, Wells Fargo Bank
mailed the exemption claim form to the debtor. Sometime after
January 5, 2016, but on or before January 14, 2016, Ms.
Coleman received the Exemption Claim Form from Wells Fargo
Bank Levy Processing Center in Phoenix, Arizona. On January
14, 2016, she filled out Section IV, the Affidavit of
Exemption and had it notarized. The form indicates that the
funds were exempt because they constituted social security
hearing in this matter held on February 11, 2016, Ms.
Coleman, appearing without counsel, testified at the
suggestion of the Assistant Attorney General representing the
Department of Revenue Services. As an officer of the court,
he felt compelled to have Ms. Coleman testify as to the
reason this application appears on its face to have never
been mailed or delivered for an exemption request to Wells
Fargo Bank within the fifteen-day statutory
period. Her testimony revealed that on January
19, 2016, the fourteenth day of the statutory period, Ms.
Coleman did, in fact, bring the notarized Exemption Claim
Form to a Wells Fargo branch bank on Campbell Avenue in West
Haven. She requested help from a bank
employee and handed the Exemption Claim Form to the employee
who examined and read through the document. He then stated to
Ms. Coleman that he did not know what to do with the document
and handed it back to her. When she told him that he was
supposed to fill it out he said he was not going to do that.
Ms. Coleman then proceeded to seek out advice from two H&
R Block Offices. Getting no direction there, she filed the
document with the Superior Court in Hartford on that same
day, January 19. Finally, on February 10, the day before the
scheduled hearing on this matter, Ms. Coleman went to another
branch of Wells Fargo Bank to speak to a supervisor whom she
knew from previous bank business. The supervisor, however,
was not in that day so Ms. Coleman was unable to discuss the
exemption claim with her.
Department of Revenue Services concedes that all of the funds
recovered from Wells Fargo constituted social security
benefits paid to Ms. Coleman and were her sole source of
income. However, Plaintiff's position at the conclusion
of the hearing was, because Ms. Coleman failed to mail or
deliver her Exemption Claim Form to Wells Fargo within the
required fifteen-day period and simply filed it with the
court, her claim should be denied. Counsel stated that it was
the policy of the Department of Revenue Services to oppose
return of any funds once they had already been paid over to
the Plaintiff by the marshal.
for the Department of Revenue Services cited two cases at the
conclusion of his remarks in support of his argument that the
Exemption Claim should be denied. Both of them appear to be
distinguishable on their facts from the instant case in more
than one way. The most important difference both have to the
instant case is that both defendants in Milford
F.C.U. and Happy Rock Merchant Solutions,
LLC, clearly failed to comply with the fifteen-day
statutory notice period referred to in General Statutes
§ 52-367b(e). In the instant case Ms. Coleman did not
mail the document to Wells Fargo but, rather, hand delivered
it to an employee of Wells Fargo Bank. Other differences
include that the defendants in the aforementioned cases were
represented by counsel, in neither case did the parties make
any affirmative efforts to notice the financial institution
by " mail or other means" as directed by General
Statutes § 52-367b(e), nor are any portions of the
requested exemptions social security benefits.
counsel also directed the Court's attention to the matter
of Frauenglass & Associates, LLC v. Bisi,
Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford, No
CV11-6020686 (January 26, 2012, Scholl, J.) [53 Conn L. Rptr.
81], in which the court denied defendant's motion to
vacate an execution on a bank account. This case, too, is
distinguishable on the facts for the same reasons as the
prior cases cited by Plaintiff, i.e. no notice to bank,
represented by counsel, and not social security benefits. The
court, in Fraunenglass & Associates, LLC,
concluded that, since the defendant had not filed a timely
exemption, once the funds had been paid out by the bank, the
statute does not provide a remedy and the only recourse the
defendant has is an action against the financial institution.
Plaintiff argues that this case supports it's contention
the Department of Revenue Services should not be required to
return the funds once they have been turned over to it and it
is the policy of the Department to oppose such exemption
reviewed the testimony of the defendant in this matter the
Court is able to find from the credible evidence that Ms.
Coleman made sufficient effort to notice Wells Fargo Bank by
her delivery of the notarized Exemption Claim Form to an
agent of Wells Fargo on January 19, 2016. An employee of
Wells Fargo reviewed the document and had the opportunity to
inform the appropriate department of the financial
institution prior to the expiration of the fifteen-day
statutory period of the notice for the requested exemption.
Ms. Coleman did not stop there. Although actual notice upon
Wells Fargo " by other means" had been effectuated
on January 19, 2016, she pursued her inquiry with two H&
R Block offices that same day, and after that, drove from
West Haven to Hartford to file the document with the Superior
Court to insure she received a hearing, since it appeared to
her that Wells Fargo had taken no action after having been
given actual notice. Moreover, she even revisited another
Wells Fargo branch the day before the hearing on February 10
and attempted to notice the Bank again. Finally, prior to the
hearing in Hartford the next day, Ms. Coleman related all of
these facts to the Assistant Attorney General representing
the Department of Revue Services prior to the hearing and,
later, under oath to the Court.
balancing of the equities seems to be in order in the instant
matter. In the case of Connecticut Light and Power v.
Rosa Spencer, Superior Court, Judicial District of New
Haven, Docket Number CV11 6004029S (Dec. 6, 2012, Fischer,
J.) [55 Conn. L. Rptr. 130], Judge Fischer felt similarly
compelled. In his opinion in that matter he offered the
following analysis: This is a case in which an unrepresented
defendant who was claiming that she wished to have certain
funds turned over to CL& P returned to her because they
were social security benefits and her sole source of income.
But Ms. Spencer had not complied with General Statutes §
52-367b(e) and had not filed her claim for exemption with the
bank within the fifteen-day statutory period. CL& P,
therefore, argued that her non-compliance with a mandatory
statute required the court to deny her request. Judge Fischer
disagreed and after reciting certain portions of General
Statutes § 52-367b(e) and § 52-367b(h), he makes
the following observation by quoting two applicable
It is well settled that one of the more reliable guides in
determining whether a statutory provision is directory or
mandatory is whether the provision is accompanied by language
that expressly invalidates any action taken after
noncompliance with the provision." Ruotolo v. Inland
Wetlands Agency, 18 Conn.App. 440, 448, 558 A.2d 1021
(1989). Inasmuch as there is nothing in the language of the
statutes at issue here that provides that a judgment debtor
loses all interest in otherwise exempt funds when the
financial institution does not receive an exemption claim
within the fifteen days after the institution has mailed the
notice to the debtor, the court finds them to be directory.
support for this construction is found in the fact that these
statutes dealing with exempted funds, such as the protection
of social security benefits, are plainly remedial in nature.
Therefore these statutes are to be " liberally construed
in favor of those whom the legislature intended to
benefit." Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Brown, 164
Conn. 497, 503, 325 A.2d 228 (1973).
Judge Fischer for Ms. Spencer, this Court shall not deprive
Ms. Coleman of otherwise protected funds. Her method of
notice to the financial institution may have been unorthodox
but it was effective. Wells Fargo had actual notice of her
claim even though she did not mail it to the Bank. Further,
she should not be required to take action against Wells Fargo
Bank for the return of the social security benefits simply
because the funds have already been turned over to the
Commissioner of Revenue. Such result would be inimical to the
concept that statutes dealing with exempted funds such as
social security benefits should be liberally
construed. Her request should be granted.
the court orders that the plaintiff return forthwith the
defendant's exempted social security funds taken from