Boddie v. Connecticut

PETITIONER: Gladys Boddie et al.
RESPONDENT: Connecticut
LOCATION: New Haven County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 27
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 401 US 371 (1971)
REARGUED: Nov 17, 1970
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1971
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1969

Facts of the case

Gladys Boddie was a married resident of Connecticut receiving welfare benefits. She filed for a divorce in New Haven County Superior Court. However, Boddie was not given a hearing because she had not paid the filing fee under Section 52-259 of the Connecticut General Statutes. Given her welfare status, she was unable to pay the fee. Her requests for fee waivers were also denied. Boddie and others who were denied divorces under Section 52-259 challenged the fee requirement in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. They alleged that the fee requirement violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court upheld the requirement. Boddie appealed to the Supreme Court.

Question

Did Connecticut's fee requirement for divorce filings violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Boddie v. Connecticut

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1969 in Boddie v. Connecticut

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - November 17, 1970 in Boddie v. Connecticut

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear argument in number 27, Boddie against Connecticut.

Mr. LaFrance?

Arthur B. LaFrance:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.

May it please the Court.

I am the counsel for the appellants in this proceeding which involves a direct appeal from the District Court for the District of Connecticut where a three-judge panel dismissed appellant's complaint.

Appellants had alleged that they are welfare recipients who seek to divorce their husbands in the Courts of Connecticut, but could not afford to pay the court costs imposed by the State of Connecticut of roughly $60.00.

They further alleged that the Connecticut Court officials had refused to waive those costs.

Appellant sought an injunction on the basis that the fee statute was unconstitutional, requesting the District Court to order the Connecticut Courts to accept appellant's divorce papers for filing and to arrange service of process.

Warren E. Burger:

When were these papers originally filed approximately?

Arthur B. LaFrance:

At the end of March in 1968 Your Honor.

The --

Warren E. Burger:

March 68 to now, I suppose we must assume they have not been able to accumulate $60.00?

Arthur B. LaFrance:

That is correct with at least five of them Your Honor.

As to two of the original named plaintiffs, their participation in this proceeding has been withdrawn.

Before appearing here today, I asked one of the people attached to the neighborhood office where I was formerly employed to check with the appellants to make certain that they are in fact still interested in this proceeding.

Because of the shortage of time, only four of the remaining seven were contacted, they are still married after a fashion and still emphatically undivorced and still unable to raise the fees necessary to initiate a divorce proceeding in Connecticut.

Warren E. Burger:

How much of a showing have they made with respect to their indigency if you wish to call it that.

And second has any showing then brought up to date from March of 1968 to now.

Arthur B. LaFrance:

With response to the first or in response to the first question Your Honor, the showing which was submitted to the Courts of Connecticut and to the District Court consisted of affidavits which appear in the Appendix in this Court indicating the family situation, the income situation, the economic responsibilities of the appellants and we would argue clearly establishing indigency at that time.

Now, we've never had an evidentiary hearing on the issue of indigency because this case was resolved in the District Court on the pleadings and for the purposes of this appeal and for the purposes of the District Court, indigency was conceded.

At the present time, there is nothing before this Court updating that showing of some two and half years ago.

I suppose if this Court were to hold in favor of the appellants, a remand would be appropriate and if that time as to any of the appellants in the case, the state would have an opportunity to challenge their indigency.

It is appellant's contention that the conduct of the appellees has denied the Due Process rights specifically and particularly with respect to the right to petition for redress and grievances.

This is a right which appears in the First Amendment is incorporated into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as reflected in the decisions of this Court such as NAACP versus Button, United Mine Workers versus Illinois Decision, Railway Train Man versus Virginia.

The right to petition as this Court has recognized, there's a fundamental right as long ago as Chambers versus Baltimore on Ohio Railway.

This Court said that the right to sue and defend in the courts is the alternative of force in an organized society, it is the right conservative of all other rights and lies at the foundations of orderly Government.

Since this case was argued last year, two decisions of this Court have been rendered which I feel bear upon the position of the appellants, at least with respect to their Due Process argument.

I refer to Sniadach versus Family Finance and Goldberg versus Kelly.

Essentially, both of those cases held that before the property interest of a citizen can be impaired or affected by state action, a hearing must be a for due.

The appellants seek that very same hearing, and yet their position is more critical than that of the position of the appellants in Goldberg versus Kelly and in Sniadach because in this instance, not only have the appellants been denied a prior hearing which was the issue in Sniadach and Goldberg but they have been denied any hearing at all.