Connecticut v. Doehr Case Brief

Why is the case important?

“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 of the case

Question

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?

Answer

“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.”

    Conclusion

    The U.S. Supreme Court held that even the temporary or partial impairments to property rights that attachments and similar encumbrances entail were sufficient to merit due process protection and that any significant taking of property by the state was within the purview of the due process clause. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-278e(a)(1) , which allowed for an attachment without notice or a hearing, was therefore in violation of the due process clause. Therefore, since the attachment of respondent’s property was a one-sided determination which did not afford him notice or an opportunity to dispute, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings.

    • Case Brief: 1991
    • Petitioner: Connecticut
    • Respondent: Doehr
    • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

    Citation: 501 US 1 (1991)
    Argued: Jan 7, 1991
    Decided: Jun 6, 1991