Brief Fact Summary. The owner of a stereo and gas stove purchased on installment contracts had those items repossessed by a deputy sheriff for failing to make the required monthly payments. Prior to the repossession, she was given no notice and no opportunity to protest the repossession at a hearing.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Even temporary, provisional remedies granted to a litigant are subject to due process constraints, such that no person’s property can be confiscated without first awarding the possessor notice and an opportunity to be heard, even where the property may later be returned.
For when a person has an opportunity to speak up in his own defense, and when the State must listen to what he has to say, substantively unfair and simply mistaken deprivations of property interests can be prevented.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether state statutes, which permit the issuance of writs ordering state agents to seize a person’s possessions, without giving prior notice to the possessor of the property, nor the opportunity to challenge the seizure at a hearing prior to the repossession, violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that no state shall deprive any person of property without due process of law.
Held. The judgments of the district courts were vacated. Parties whose rights are to be affected are entitled to be heard, and in order that they may enjoy that right they must first be notified. The right to notice and an opportunity to be heard must be granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. If the right to notice and a hearing is to serve its full purpose, it must be granted at a time when the deprivation (of a person’s property) can still be prevented. No later hearing and no damage award can undo the fact that the arbitrary taking that was subject to the right of procedural due process has already occurred.
Dissent. Justice Byron White (J. White) dissented. His dissenting opinion is omitted by the casebook.
Discussion. Although generally holding generally that even temporary and provisional deprivations of property are void without prior notice and an opportunity to be heard, the Supreme Court did point out that in a few limited situations it might allow seizure without opportunity for a hearing, provided three requirements were met. First, the seizure must be directly necessary to secure an important government or public interest. Second, there must be a “very special” need for the prompt action. Third, the person initiating the seizure must be a government official finding the seizure necessary under a narrowly drawn stat