Fuentes v. Shevin
407 U.S. 67 (1972)

  • Fuentes bought some furniture from Shevin’s store on credit.
    • The store had a policy that said that you needed to pay off all of the individual pieces of furniture before they handed over title to any of the pieces.
  • Shevin claimed Fuentes was behind on her payments and repossessed all of her furniture. Fuentes sued.
    • Under the law of the time, Shevin only had to go to a Court clerk (no judge!) and get them to swear that the loan is in default. Then Shevin repossessed the furniture, prior to anyone hearing the merits of the case.
  • The US Supreme Court found that Fuentes’ due process was violated because she may have had a defense that she hadn’t had the opportunity to present.
    • Basically, the courts can’t penalize someone by taking away their furniture without at least giving them a chance to argue their side of the case before an impartial authority.
  • In a follow-up case, Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co., (416 US 600 (1974)) Louisiana interpreted the Fuentes decision to require that the store go before a judge with sworn affidavits, a bond, and a reason to believe that the debtor would dispose of the property if they felt that it would be repossessed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that this satisfied due process.
    • See also North Georgia Finishing Inc. v. Di-Chem Inc., (419 US 601 (1975)) where the US Supreme Court found that the Georgia courts did not meet the due process standard set by Mitchell.
  • A lot of these due process cases were decided in the 1960s, because until that time, poor people did not have lawyers. It was only when lawyers began to represent the poor did laws like this began to be seen.
    • Some would say that you should interpret laws based upon the original intent of the writers of the law. However, this ignores the fact that many parts of the Constitution were written at a time when the poor were not adequately represented in Courts, so the case law often unfairly’ ruled against them.