Connecticut v. Doehr

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Connecticut v. Doehr
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 7, 1991
Decided June 6, 1991
Full case name Connecticut v. Brian K. Doehr
Citations 501 U.S. 1 (more)
111 S.Ct. 2105; 115 L.Ed.2d 1
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Holding
A state law authorizing the prejudgment attachment of a defendant's real property at the outset of a lawsuit, without notice to the defendant or a hearing and without any showing of extraordinary circumstances, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun · John P. Stevens
Sandra Day O'Connor · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · David Souter
Case opinions
Majority White, joined by unanimous (Parts I, III); Rehnquist, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter (Part II)
Plurality White, joined by Marshall, Stevens, O'Connor (Parts IV, V)
Concurrence Rehnquist, joined by Blackmun
Concurrence Scalia
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV
Seal of Connecticut.svg
This article is part of a series on the
Law of Connecticut
WikiProject Connecticut

Connecticut v. Doehr, 501 U.S. 1 (1991), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a state statute authorizing prejudgment attachment of a defendant's real property upon the filing of an action, without prior notice or hearing, without a showing of extraordinary circumstances, and without a requirement that the plaintiff post a bond, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Background[edit]

A Connecticut statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-278e(a)(1), provided that when a civil lawsuit was commenced, the plaintiff could ask a judge to attach any real property that the defendant owned, for the purpose of ensuring that the plaintiff would be able to collect any judgment that eventually resulted from the suit. The attachment impaired the defendant's ownership rights in the property, such as by clouding title to the property and making it impossible to sell or mortgage the property.

Under the Connecticut procedure, attachments were based solely on the plaintiff's submitting a "verification" (equivalent to an affidavit) asserting that there existed probable cause to sustain the validity of his or her claim. There was no requirement that prior notice of the attachment be provided to the defendant, that any hearing be held before the property was attached, that the property have anything to do with the subject-matter of the lawsuit, or that any unusual or extraordinary circumstances be shown.

In 1988, John F. DiGiovanni sued Brian K. Doehr for $75,000 for assault and battery in Connecticut Superior Court. DiGiovanni moved for Doehr's real property to be attached, submitting a five-sentence affidavit opining that there was a good basis for his claim, the judge ordered the attachment. Doehr received no notice of the proceedings until after the sheriff had levied the attachment, the notice advised Doehr that he could request a post-attachment hearing if he wished.

Doehr filed a federal complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, contending that the Connecticut pre-judgment attachment procedure violated his constitutional right to due process. The District Court upheld the statute, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, concluding that the statute was unconstitutional because it authorized ex parte attachments without a showing of extraordinary circumstances and without a hearing.

The State of Connecticut and DiGiovanni sought review in the United States Supreme Court, which granted certiorari.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court. The Court was unanimous as to the result of the case and Parts I and III of the opinion, but not the entire opinion.

The Court concluded that the constitutionality of the Connecticut prejudgment attachment procedure must be judged by the balancing test for due process claims described in Mathews v. Eldridge (1976). The Court concluded that the Connecticut law created too great a risk of erroneous deprivation of property to survive scrutiny under Mathews; in reaching this conclusion, the Court emphasized, among other things, that no notice of the proposed attachment was given to the defendant before it was levied; that no pre-attachment hearing was provided, even though the plaintiff's perfunctory verification may provide the judge with little or no insight into the validity of the plaintiff's claim; that there was no requirement that the subject-matter of the claim be related to the real property being attached; and that there was no requirement that the plaintiff show special circumstances, such as that the defendant was seeking to evade payment of any judgment that might be awarded. The Court also observed that while an attachment of a defendant's real property did not deprive him or her of the use of the property, it nonetheless represented a significant interference with the defendant's ownership rights.

In Parts IV and V of his opinion which spoke only for a plurality of the Court, Justice White asserted that due process also required that a plaintiff obtaining an attachment must post a bond or other security for the damages the defendant might suffer in the event the attachment and underlying lawsuit proved to be unjustified.

Rehnquist's concurrence[edit]

Chief Justice Rehnquist filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Blackmun. Chief Justice Rehnquist agreed that the Connecticut attachment statute failed to satisfy due process, but he objected to what he described as the majority opinion's "lengthy disquisition as to what combination of safeguards are required to satisfy Due Process in hypothetical cases not before the Court."

Scalia's concurrence[edit]

Justice Scalia filed a one-paragraph opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; he was the only Justice who declined to join Part II of Justice White's opinion. Justice Scalia opined that because the Connecticut pre-judgment attachment procedure was "unknown at common law," it must be evaluated in light of the balancing test for due process that the Court set forth in Mathews v. Eldridge and agreed that it failed that test.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Alquist, E. A. (1993). "Balancing the Checklist: Connecticut's Legislative Response to Connecticut v. Doehr". Connecticut Law Review. 26: 721. ISSN 0010-6151. 
  • Beale, L. (1993). "Connecticut v. Doehr and Procedural Due Process Values: The Sniadach Tetrad Revisited". Cornell Law Review. 79: 1603. ISSN 0010-8847. 
  • Levy, J. G. (1992). "Lis Pendens and Procedural Due Process: A Closer Look after Connecticut v. Doehr". Maryland Law Review. 51: 1054. ISSN 0025-4282. 

External links[edit]

  • ^ 501 U.S. 1 Full text of the opinion courtesy of Findlaw.com.