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Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc. v. Pope

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc. (Appellant), a collection agency associated with the hospital at which H. Everett Pope, Jr. (Deceased) stayed, brought this action against JoAnne Pope, wife of Deceased (Appellee), arguing that she did not provide proper notice to Appellant concerning probate of Deceased’s estate.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If an individual’s identity was known or reasonable ascertainable by an executor, then due process requires that the individual be given notice by mail or other means certain to ensure actual notice.

    Facts. Appellee published notice of probate proceedings on her deceased husband’s estate in accordance with the state nonclaim statute. Appellant filed a claim after the expiration of the statutory period and sought to have the amount owed the hospital which appellant represented satisfied from the estate. The state courts denied the claim, holding that the failure of Appellee to give Appellant actual notice did not constitute a denial of due process because the nonclaim statute was a self-executing statute of limitations. Appellant appeals.

    Issue. If an individual’s identity was known or reasonable ascertainable by an executor, does due process require that the individual be given notice by mail or other means certain to ensure actual notice?

    Held. Yes. If an individual’s identity was known or reasonable ascertainable by an executor, then due process requires that the individual be given notice by mail or other means certain to ensure actual notice. The appellant’s claim regarded a private property interest. This interest is protected from state action by the United States Constitution 14th Amendment. The state courts’ involvement was sufficient enough to constitute state action for purposes of that amendment. The probate court was intimately involved throughout the notice procedure, and the nonclaim statute became operative only after the commencement of probate proceedings. Operation of the statute could adversely affect Appellant’s property interests, and therefore it is not a self-exectuing statute of limitations. Because Appellants’s identity was known or easily ascertainable by Appellee, Appellee was required under due process to give notice by mail or other means that were certain to ensure actual notice. Consequen
    tially, we remand for determination as to whether or not the Appellee’s efforts were reasonable to identify Appellant.

    Discussion. The issue in this case regards the limitations on a state’s right to cut off creditor’s claims and involves a nonclaim statute. Nonclaim statutes generally come in two different forms: (1) Those that quickly cancel creditors’ rights after probate so long as specific statutory requirements are satisfied, and (2) those that allow for longer periods of time from the decedents’ death before the right to claim extinguishes, with no notice required.


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