The right to salary or fees which have been earned may be assigned and such an assignment is a valid one not in contravention of public policy.[i] However, the wages of a public officer may not be assigned.[ii] The word public officer means one who renders a public service; a service in which the general public is interested.[iii]
The rule which makes wages of public officers nonassignable is based not upon their private interest but upon the necessity of ensuring efficient public service.[iv]
Additionally, the future salaries of public officers are not assignable on the ground of public policy and an attempted assignment thereof is void.[v] The assignment of such funds before they are due is forbidden under public policy since it harms the efficiency of the public service.[vi]
In Fischer v. Liberty Nat’l Bank & Trust Co., 61 F.2d 757 (2d Cir. Conn. 1932), the court held that the assignment of the future compensation of a public officer is not valid. In Holt v. Thurman, 111 Ky. 84 (Ky. 1901), the court held that any contract securing to any one not occupying public office its benefits or emoluments, or any part thereof, is void.
However, the salary or emoluments of a public officer, when already earned, are capable of assignment.[vii] A public officer may assign his salary and confer upon the assignee the power to collect it after he has earned it.[viii] Similarly, compensation, if due may be assigned.[ix]
In Hooker v. McLennan, 236 Mass. 117 (Mass. 1920), the court held that the right of a public officer to compensation, although statutory, can be assigned before the services have been fully performed. If an ordinance prohibits the assignment of earned wages, it is in derogation of common right and will invoke the rule of strict construction and the courts will closely scan the language of the ordinance.[x]
Public officers excluded from assigning their future compensation include:
- city firefighters,
- police officers,
- court-appointed receivers, and
- various county officers.
In Huling, Brockerhoff & Co. v. Cabell, 9 W. Va. 522 (W. Va. 1876), the court held that a city officer chosen for a year, subject to removal at any time and whose salary is payable quarterly, may legally make an assignment of a quarter’s salary before the quarter expires.
Additionally, in cases in which an officer’s assignment of his salary is deemed assignable, the officers holding their respective offices at the time of the assignment, have then existing claims to what they assigned, and though these claims are uncertain in amount, or voidable at the pleasure of a third party, they are assignable.
[i] In re Martin, 117 B.R. 243 (Bankr. N.D. Tex. 1990)
[ii] State ex rel. Leach v. Price, 168 Ohio St. 499 (Ohio 1959)
[iii] Schmitt v. Dooling, 145 Ky. 240 (Ky. 1911)
[iv] State ex rel. Leach v. Price, 168 Ohio St. 499 (Ohio 1959)
[v] Holt v. Thurman, 111 Ky. 84 (Ky. 1901)
[vi] State ex rel. Leach v. Price, 168 Ohio St. 499 (Ohio 1959)
[vii] Holt v. Thurman, 111 Ky. 84 (Ky. 1901)
[viii] Byers v. Comer, 50 Ariz. 8 (Ariz. 1937)
[ix] Fischer v. Liberty Nat’l Bank & Trust Co., 61 F.2d 757 (2d Cir. Conn. 1932)
[x] Kansas City Loan Guarantee Co. v. Kansas City, 200 Mo. 159 (Mo. 1906)