In a reported case of first impression under California law, the California Court of Appeal, First District, Division 5 ruled that an unsecured creditor’s garnishment or levy on funds in a deposit account will defeat the prior secured creditor. Orix Financial Services, Inc. v. Kovacs, 83 Cal. Rptr. 3d 900, 08 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 12,845 (Sept. 30, 2008).
The debtor defaulted on $1.5 million in secured debt held by Orix. Kovacs independently obtained a judgment against the same debtor for about $150,000. Kovacs was an unsecured creditor. In traditional analysis of creditors’ priorities, Orix’s claim was superior to Kovaks. However, Kovacs obtained a writ of execution and levied on the debtor’s deposit accounts. The deposit account holders paid the funds to Kovacs. The prior secured creditor Orix sued the unsecured creditor Kovacs for unjust enrichment and imposition of a constructive trust.
The court of appeal ruled that the unsecured creditor was entitled to keep the money as a “transferee” under California’s version of UCC 9-332(b) (California Comm. Code 9332(b)), which states:
“A transferee of funds from a deposit account takes the funds free of a security interest in the deposit account unless the transferee acts in collusion with the debtor in violating the rights of the secured party.”
The term “transferee” is not defined. However, considering the underlying commercial policy favoring certainty in routine deposit account transactions–most of which involve transfers to unsecured creditors–the court ruled that the levying creditor should fall within the definition of “transferee” within UCC 9-332(b).