Boddie v. Connecticut
401 U.S. 371 (1971)

Facts:

  • In Connecticut, the average cost of bringing a divorce action was $60 (court fees and costs for service of process).
  • Welfare recipients argued that this was unconditional because it restricted their access to the courts.

Issue:
Whether the divorce filing fees unconstitutionally restricted access to the courts.

Holding:
Yes.

Reasoning:

  • Due process requires, at a minimum, that absent a countervailing state interest of overriding significance, persons forced to settle their claims of right and duty through the judicial process must be given a meaningful opportunity to be heard.
  • Here, the interests argued were:
    • Prevention of frivolous litigation;
    • Its use of court fees and process costs to allocate scarce resources is rational; and
    • Its balance between the defendant’s right to notice and the plaintiff’s right to access is reasonable.
  • However, the court held that these weren’t sufficient:
    • No necessary connection between a litigant’s assets and the seriousness of his motives in bringing suit;
    • It is here beyond present dispute that appellants bring these actions in good faith; and
    • Other alternatives exist to fees and cost requirements as a means for conserving the time of courts and protecting parties from frivolous litigation.
      • E.g., penalties for false pleadings or affidavits and actions for malicious prosecution or abuse of process.
    • Reliable alternatives also exist to service of process.
      • E.g., service by publication or service at defendant’s last known address by mail.

Rule: Due process prohibits a state from denying, solely because of inability to pay court fees and costs, access to its courts to indigents who, in good faith, seek judicial dissolution of their marriages.