Connecticut v. Doehr
501 U.S. 1, 111 S. Ct. 2105, 115 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1991)

  • DiGiovanni was suing Doehr.  He went to the Connecticut Court and asked to attach Doehr’s house for $75k as part of the suit.
    • The suit was for an assault and battery charge and had nothing to do with the property.  But based on Connecticut law you can attach property for torts in anticipation of receiving damages.
    • Tort cases often have factual questions that must be answered before judgment (he said she said…)
  • The judge found that there was probable cause that DiGiovanni would win the assault tort, so he ordered the property attached.  Of course, at this time DiGiovanni hadn’t bothered to serve Doehr with notice that he was being sued for anything.  The first thing Doehr got was the notice of attachment, he had yet to receive the notice that he was being sued.
    • The attachment sequestered the property. Doehr still owned it, but he could not sell it, or borrow on it.
    • There was no detailed affidavit, no bond, and no court hearing, unlike in the case of Fuentes v. Shevin (407 U.S. 67 (1972)).
  • Doehr countersued in Federal Court that Connecticut had issued a default judgment against him without giving him due process, and that the Connecticut law attaching property was therefore unconstitutional.
  • The Federal Trial Court upheld the attachment.  Doehr appealed.
  • The Federal Appellate Court reversed.  Connecticut appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed and found for Doehr.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the prejudgment order “failed to provide a pre-attachment hearing without at least requiring a showing of some exigent circumstance, clearly falls short of the demands of due process.”
    • The Court also held that pre-attachment hearings are violative of due process when there is no notice prior to the actual filing of the attachment, for the defendant has no remedy to object to the suspension of his property rights.
    • The Court came up with a three part test to determine if due process has been satisfied in a prejudgment decision:
      • The private interest that will be affected by the official action,
      • The risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of addition or substitute safeguards, and
      • The principal attention to the interest of the party seeking the prejudgment remedy.
        • This test was based on Matthews v. Eldridge (424 U.S. 319 (1976)).
      • Compare this decision to that in Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp. (395 U.S. 337 (1969)). In that case, the Court had attached Sniadach’s wages before the case had been heard.  The Appellate Court held that this was unfair since Sniadach needed wages to live so there was unfair pressure to settle.