Shaffer v. Stanley

In Shaffer v. Stanley, 215 W. Va. 58, 593 S.E.2d 629 (2003), released on November 26, 2003, the Court held that administrative actions to obtain child support payments, such as the tax refund intercepts attempted in the present case, do not act to toll the running of the statute of limitations. In Shaffer, a former husband had sought to terminate social security withholding by the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement for collection on judgment for support arrearages. In addressing the arguments raised in that case, the Court reiterated the principle that "when a provision for periodic payments of child support is made in a divorce decree, these installments become decretal judgments as they become due." 215 W.Va. at 63, 593 S.E.2d at 634. The Shaffer Court reasoned that "a comparison of the traditional definition of and procedure for the execution of a judgment with the provisions for tax offsets indicates to this Court that a tax offset is not an execution. . . ." 215 W.Va. at 65, 593 S.E.2d at 636. A tax offset, the Shaffer Court explained, "does not involve a process of the court that results in the issuance of a judicial writ." Id. at 65, 593 S.E.2d at 636. "Rather, a tax offset is a purely administrative action initiated and carried out by executive agencies." Id. The Shaffer Court ultimately concluded that the Bureau's attempts to intercept the former husband's income tax refunds did not constitute an execution, for purposes of tolling ten-year limitations period to collect on judgment. Specifically, in syllabus point five of Shaffer, the Court explained as follows: "The procedure utilized by the Bureau for Child Support Enforcement to obtain payment of past due child support from Federal and State tax refunds from overpayments made to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States or the State Tax Commissioner, as provided for in W.Va.Code 48-18-117 (2001) and W.Va.Code 48-18-118 (2001), does not constitute an execution of a judgment under W.Va.Code 38-3-18 (1923) for the purpose of tolling the ten-year limitation period for the execution of an issuance on a judgment." The Court addressed the refund issue and explained that the Legislature has provided specific procedures whereby obligors may contest income withholding. See W.Va.Code 48-14-405 (2001) (Repl. Vol. 2004). The Legislature has also directed that "the [West Virginia Support Enforcement] commission shall, by administrative rule, establish procedures for promptly refunding to obligors amounts which have been improperly withheld . . . ." W.Va.Code 48-14-407(b) (2002) (Repl. Vol. 2004). The Shaffer Court referenced these administrative rules, recognizing that the Child Advocate Office is required to arrange a refund of the amount improperly withheld. 215 W.Va. at 69, 593 S.E.2d at 640. The Shaffer Court concluded as follows: "It is clear from the above that the Legislature has manifested an intent that the BCSE repay funds which were improperly withheld from an obligor's income. It is equally clear that the BCSE has recognized that it has such a duty. Moreover, simple fairness dictates that when a government entity exercises its considerable power to obtain a portion of an obligor's income through force of law, it cannot escape all responsibility when its actions result in an overpayment by the obligor. Accordingly, we conclude that the BCSE is liable to an obligor for repayment when it improperly withholds funds from his or her income." Id.