Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Company

PETITIONER: Mitchell
RESPONDENT: W. T. Grant Company
LOCATION: First City Court of the City of New Orleans, Louisiana

DOCKET NO.: 72-6160
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Louisiana Supreme Court

CITATION: 416 US 600 (1974)
ARGUED: Dec 04, 1973
DECIDED: May 13, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Robert J. Hobbs - for petitioner; John W
Thomas J. O'Sullivan -

Facts of the case

Lawrence Mitchell purchased a refrigerator, range, stereo, and washing machine from W. T. Grant Company and fell behind on payments. W. T. Grant sued Mitchell in state court to recover the $574.17 balance. Pursuant to Louisiana law, W. T. Grant offered proof that it had a vendor's lien on the property and that Mitchell owed a balance and asked the court to issue a writ of sequestration to retain and hold the property pending the outcome of the suit. The trial court approved the writ without notifying Mitchell or allowing him an opportunity to defend his right to the property at a hearing. Mitchell moved to dissolve the writ of sequestration and argued that seizing his property without notice or an opportunity to defend his interest in the property violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The trial court, the appellate court, and the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Mitchell's argument and held that W. T. Grant's course of conduct ensured Mitchell's due process by proceeding according to Louisiana law.

Question

Does sequestration of a debtor's property without providing the debtor notice or a hearing to defend an interest in the property violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 04, 1973 in Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 13, 1974 in Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Company

Byron R. White:

I have another case, the Chief Justice indicated, Mitchell against W.T. Grant Company, number 72-6160.

This is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

The question is whether the procedures under the Louisiana statute for the foreclosure of the vendor’s land on personal property, comports on with due process.

Under the Louisiana law a repossession is permitted without prior notice and without a prior hearing but only after on a judicial order obtained on a written application by the creditor and that only after the filing of the sufficient bond.

There is an early opportunity for a hearing.

We hold that the statute is constitutional and do not agree that the Fuentes’ case, a recent case in this Court and 407 US requires the invalidation of the Louisiana statute.

The Louisiana -- we affirm its judgment.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.

Potter Stewart:

I have filed a dissenting opinion in the case of Mitchell against W.T. Grant Company.

In my view this case is constitutionally indistinguishable from the case of Fuentes against Shevin, decided by this Court only two years ago and reported in Volume 407 of the United States Reports, and the Court today has simply rejected the reasoning of that case and adopted instead the analysis of the dissenting opinion in that case written by my brother Mr. Justice White.

On the reasoning and authority of the Fuentes opinion, I would reverse the judgment before us because the Louisiana sequestration procedure fails to comport with the requirements of due process of law.

These views are spelled out in some detailed in the written opinion, I have filed today, but I would add an additional word.

It seems to me that unless we respect the constitutional decisions of this Court, we can hardly expect that others will do so.

A substantial departure from precedent can only be justified, I have thought, in the light of experience with the application of the rule to be abandoned or in the light of an altered historic environment.

Yet the Court today has unmistakably overruled a considered decision of this Court that is barely two years old without pointing to any change in basic constitutional understandings that might justify this total disregard of stare decisis.

The Fuentes decision was in a direct line of recent cases in this Court that have applied the procedural due process commands of the the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit governmental action that deprives a person of a statutory or contractual property interest with no advance notice and no opportunity to be heard.

In the short time that has elapsed since the Fuentes case was decided, many state and federal courts have followed it in accessing the constitutional validity of state replevin statutes and other comparable state laws.

No data have been brought to our attention to indicate that these decisions, granting to otherwise defenseless consumers, the simple rudiments of due process of law have worked any untoward change in the consumer credit market or in other commercial relationships.

The only perceivable change that has occurred since the Fuentes case is in the make up of this Court.

A basic change in the law upon a ground, no firmer than a change in this Court’s membership invites the popular misconception that this institution is a little different from the two political branches of government.

No misconception could do more lasting injury to this Court and to the system of law which it is our abiding mission to serve.

I am authorized to say that Mr. Justice Douglas and Mr. Justice Marshal have joined this dissenting opinion and that Mr. Justice Brennan also agrees that Fuentes versus Shevin requires reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

Byron R. White:

I am authorized to say that and Mr. Justice Powell has filed a concurring opinion.