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Connecticut v. Doehr

    Brief Fact Summary. In conjunction with a civil action for assault and battery against Brian K. Doehr (Respondent), John F. DiGiovanni (Petitioner), submitted an application for an attachment in the amount of $75,000 on Respondent’s home in Meridan, Connecticut. Respondent challenged the constitutionality of the attachment statute, the General Statutes of Connecticut, Section 52-278(e) (1991), under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to resolve the conflict in authority between the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s ruling that the statute was unconstitutional and the District Court’s decision to uphold the statute.
    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Prejudgment attachment without prior notice and an opportunity for a hearing violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Facts. Petitioner submitted an application to the Superior Court of Connecticut for an attachment in the amount of $75,000 on Respondent’s home in Connecticut in connection with a civil action for assault and battery. The suit did not involve the Respondent’s land nor did the Petitioner have any interest in Respondent’s home or property. Connecticut’s prejudgment attachment statute authorizes the attachment of real estate without prior notice or the opportunity for a prior hearing. The statute does not require the posting of a bond. Based upon Petitioner’s affidavit that the Respondent willfully, wantonly and maliciously assaulted the Petitioner, the Superior Court of Connecticut judge found “probable cause to sustain the validity of the Petitioner’s claim” and ordered attachment of the Respondent’s home in the amount of $75,000. Only after the sheriff attached the property was the Respondent given notice of the attachment. Respondent filed suit against Petitioner in Federal District Court claiming that the statute was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court upheld the statute. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed the district court’s decision. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.

    Issue. Whether a state statute that authorizes prejudgment attachment of real estate without prior notice or the opportunity for a hearing, without extraordinary circumstances, and without the requirement that a person seeking attachment post a bond satisfies the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

    Held. No. The judgment is affirmed and remanded for further proceedings. Prejudgment attachment provisions that fail to provide prior notice or preattachment hearing without some showing of exigent circumstances violates the requirements of due process. In order to determine what process is due when the government seeks to deprive an individual of their property, the following three step analysis must be completed: 1) the private interests that will be affected; 2) the risk of erroneous deprivation; 3) and the government’s interests. Here, however, the inquiry is slightly different because prejudgment remedy statutes deal with disputes between private parties. Therefore, instead of considering the government’s interests, principal attention must be given to the interest of the party seeking the remedy. In the instant case, homeowners’ interests would be significantly affected by attachment even though there is no interference with possession of property because it could cloud title and interfere with borrowing on the property. Second, there is a substantial risk of erroneous deprivation since it is state practice to rely on conclusory affidavits and does not lend itself to documentary proof. Third, the interests of the Petitioner are too minimal, the only interest the Petitioner has in the Respondent’s real estate is to ensure the availability of assets to satisfy the judgment if he prevailed on the merits of the claim. Petitioner’s interest in attaching the property does not justify the burdening of the Respondent’s ownership rights without a hearing to determine the likelihood of recovery. Due process also requires that the Petitioner post a bond in addition to requiring a hearing or showing of some exigency. A danger exists that property rights may be wrongfully deprived without the safeguards of a bond, even with a hearing or exigency requirement. Concurrence. The concurrence is in agreement with the decision of the court that the Connecticut attachment statute fails to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the court’s holding requiring the bond requirement is both unnecessary and not useful. The court should wait for more concrete cases, which present issues involving bonds to make such a decision. Agreement with the court that the Connecticut statute’s validity should be determined by applying the test set forth in Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976). It fails this test.

    Discussion. The factors used in the case to determine what process is due when the government seeks to deprive an individual of their property was set forth in Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976). The factors are as follows: 1) consideration of the private interest that will be affected by the prejudgment measure; 2) an examination of the risk of erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used; 3) the probable value of additional or alternative safeguards; and 4) the Government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail. Id. at 335. In Connecticut, the same test was used; however, the focus was different. In contrast to Mathews, the court emphasized that principal attention is to be paid to the interest of the party seeking the prejudgment remedy, with due regard for any ancillary interest the government may have in providing the procedure or in reducing its burden by not providing greater protections.


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