LOCATION: Georgia State Capitol
DOCKET NO.: 71-5097
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Nebraska Supreme Court
CITATION: 406 US 337 (1972)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 1972
DECIDED: May 15, 1972
Leo Eisenstatt - for petitioner
Vincent L. Dowding - for respondent
Facts of the case
Media for Huffman v. Boersen
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 1972 in Huffman v. Boersen
Warren E. Burger:
-- first this morning in number 71-5097, Huffman against Boersen.
Mr. Eisenstatt, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
This case is on petition for writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court of the State of Nebraska and involves in its essence a -- several questions involving the annulment of a marriage, a determination of paternity and the allowance or granting or the violation thereof the right to be present at trial.
These proceedings now before the Court commenced by the filing of a petition for annulment in the District Court of Hall County, Nebraska, Grand Island approximately in the middle of the state.
The defendant in that case, petitioner here Harold Eugene Hoffman was at that time incarcerated in the state penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska approximately a 110 miles away.
Throughout the proceedings, Mr. Huffman appeared pro se until the appointment of counsel by this Court in response to his request for a writ of certiorari.
The essential facts, as we view them, would be that on March 5, 1969, these two parties, Harold Eugene Hoffman and Faye Boersen were married in Las Vegas, Nevada.
At that time, the parties had been living in Hamilton County, adjoining Hall County in a small town known as Giltner, Nebraska.
At that time, there was -- there had been filed by Faye, a petition for divorce from a marriage contracted according to the record with Richard A. Boersen and with respect to whom there were two children at that time of the marriage.
Now the, and I will get into the facts in a little more detail, the petitioner's view of the issues in this case are in two general areas, and that is, was the equal protection of the laws violated with respect to the petitioner by reason of the dismissal of his appeal in that annulment case by the Nebraska Supreme Court because he failed to file a $75 cost security, bond or cash in lieu thereof, and secondly, were his rights to be present at the trial violated when he was incarcerated at the state penitentiary at the time of the trial.
The facts are not in dispute and although there are lengthy pleadings on file, a distillation of those facts in our opinion could not make the facts very complicated.
Now, before referring to these additional facts, I would like to footnote Nebraska provisions dealing with the matter of appeal.
Since its founding, the State of Nebraska has had in its Bill of Rights, a provision, guaranteeing right of appeal in all civil cases.
Article 1 Section 24, provides the right to be heard in all civil cases in the court of last resort by appeal, error or otherwise shall not be denied, and as announced by a long line of Nebraska cases, more particularly as it applies to this case and we've cited in our brief, the case of Ferber versus Leise which held that this right of appeal exists irrespective of the merits or the lack thereof in the court or in the record.
In other words, they take the position that our Supreme Court should not consider a case until it's been properly presented and not try to anticipate whether or not the appeal is frivolous or has some substance.
Now the records shows that Faye had been married to or entered into a marriage ceremony with Richard Boersen in June of 1964.
And she had filed an action for divorce, well, there were two of them, but the one involved is in February of 1969 and that action Boersen had filed a counter suit.
Then on March 5, as I stated, she married the petitioner in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And about a-month-and-a-half later, April 24, a divorce decree was entered.
In October of that year, 1969, she gave birth to a child, a child which the petitioner claims paternity and is also one of the issues involved in this case.
Now, in November 1970, Faye filed the petition for annulment in the Hall County district court.
Huffman was incarcerated in the state penitentiary on November 9.
The sheriff of Lancaster County pursuant to our local procedure served the summons.
He was allowed in to serve the summons on the petitioner and service in written was made of that fact.
In the pleadings that followed as I said all filed by Huffman pro se, by the way Mr. Huffman is the inmate's legal assistant at the Nebraska penitentiary.
A review of the record in this case would indicate some expertise and knowledge on his part that might not be possessed of an ordinary layman.
Now, among the pleadings filed, he raised the issue of denial of her right to annulment.
He raised the issue and claimed the right to be found -- the father of his child born in October 1969 and he also demanded in several pleadings the right to be present at any trial.
He also advised the court that he was without funds and had no counsel.