Gotthilf v. Sills

PETITIONER: Morris Gotthilf
RESPONDENT: Benjamin Sills, Morton Sills, Sills of Cambridge Inc.
LOCATION: New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department

DOCKET NO.: 50
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 375 US 79 (1963)
ARGUED: Oct 24, 1963
DECIDED: Nov 18, 1963
GRANTED: Apr 01, 1963

ADVOCATES:
O. John Rogge - for the petitioner
Theodore Charnas - for the respondent

Facts of the case

The Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, granted an order to arrest debtor, Morris Gotthilf. Gotthilf appealed the decision, arguing that the statute authorizing arrest to enforce collection of debts violated the New York State and U.S. Constitutions. The Supreme Court of New York dismissed the appeal, because the original order was not final. Gotthilf did not file for leave to appeal certified questions before appealing the the U.S. Supreme Court as is required by New York law for non-final orders.

Question

Does the New York statute authorizing arrest to enforce collection of debt violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Gotthilf v. Sills

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 24, 1963 in Gotthilf v. Sills

Earl Warren:

Number 50, Morris Gotthilf, Petitioner, versus Benjamin Sills, et al.

Mr. Rogge.

O. John Rogge:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case presents the question whether the body execution statute of the State of New York violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

It is my position that it does and in support of that position, I am going to suggest an approach to the Due Process Clause which I think is in accord with its intervening and historical development which is at one and the same time less inclusive than what has been called the incorporation theory based upon the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Black with the concurrence of Mr. Justice Douglas and also the concurrence on this point of Justices Murphy and Rutledge in Adamson against California and on the other hand, is more inclusive.

I say less inclusive because I don't think it's historically correct to say that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 anymore than the barons already made almost three quarters of a millennium earlier when they exacted from King John.

He promised not to go against them except by the law of the land that they thought about it specifically what it meant other than it meant to do right.

I don't think it's historically correct to say therefore that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by itself incorporated the first state amendments and made them applicable to the States.

On the other hand, I submit that the Due Process Clause does represent the better angel of our nature and therefore shouldn't be limited to the first state amendment.

For example, there is a provision in the Fourteenth Amendment for equal protection of the laws.

If it were not there, can there be any doubt but that today justice that's not even handed would be struck down under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

There is in the Thirteenth Amendment, for instance, the provision against involuntary servitude except for those who've been convicted of a crime after a due trial.

If it were not there, can it be any doubt -- can there be any doubt but that today under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

There couldn't be involuntary servitude.

On that basis -- on that approach, I submit that the body execution statute of the State of New York violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on five different grounds.

It violates it because it imposes the punishment without the incidence of a criminal trial.

There was a default judgment in this case never anything more.

It violates the Due Process Clause in the second place because the body execution statute which was Section 764 of the Civil Practice Act bears no reasonable relationship to the ends, the Legislature had in mind when they enacted.

It violates the Due Process Clause in the third place because when this body execution statute is taken together with a couple of sections of the New York Correction Law, it denies the petitioner of equal protection of the laws.

A rich man won't have to go to jail for six months the way my client will if he goes back to New York.

He's not in New York.

He had to leave New York a minute that order for body execution was entered.

Therefore, it violates the Due Process Clause because it denied him the equal protection of the laws.

In the fourth place, this Section violates the Due Process Clause because it imposes upon him a cruel and an unusual punishment.

And in the fifth place, it violates the Due Process Clause because it imposes upon him involuntary services.

Now, before I get to the merits of the case, there are two nagging procedural questions that I'd like to deal with.

The Attorney General of the State of New York says that I did and exhaust state court remedies in New York.

I say that I did.

He says that I don't have a final judgment.

I say that I do but I say it doesn't make any difference.