The Law School Authority

Connecticut v. Doehr Case Brief

Summary of Connecticut v. Doehr, U.S. Supreme Court (1991)

Cause of action: The following is a cause of action for damages as the result of an assault and battery.

Procedural History: Doehr filed suit in a federal district court, claiming the statute violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.  District Court upheld the constitutionality of CT statute and granted summary judgment to DiGiovanni  Upon appeal to the 2nd Circuit, a split panel reversed.

Facts: At the time of the original suit, DiGiovanni submitted to the court an application for $75K prejudgment attachment on Doehr’s home, which was authorized by CT statute.  The statute in question requires a motion by PL if there exist “probable cause to sustain the validity of the PL’s claims” and that the property over which attachment is being sought be real property,  There was no requirement that PL post a bond for the payment of damages arising from the attachment if the PL should lose, or to pay off successful wrongful attachment lawsuit brought later by DF.

DiGiovanni brought up the probable cause issue in his affadavit, which was agreed by the court, which issued a prejudgment attachment order.  Following this order, DiGiovanni was ordered to then give notice to DF Doehr advising him the right to

(1) object to the attachment order for lack of p/c; (2) request the order be modified, vacated, dismissed, or that a bond be substituted in lieu of the lien; or (3) object to a portion of the property claimed to be exempt from the prejudgment order.

Issue(s): Under federal rules of civil procedure, is a state statute that authorizes prejudgment attachment  of real estate without prior notice or hearing, without a showing of extraordinary circumstances, and without a requirement that the person seeking the attachment post a bond, satisfactory according to the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment?

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Previous case law in the Court shows they have not favored pre-judgment attachment hearings when there is not exigent circumstances where the PL might feel there is a good chance they might lose any possible monetary awards from DF’s taking them away or using them all up.  The Court also feels pre-attachment hearings are violative of due process when there is no notice prior to the actual filing of the attachment, for DF has no remedy to object to the suspension of his property rights.

(1) Property interests are significant.  Liens on them affect the value of property and ability to sell them, as well as tainting credit rating.  Even temporary or partial impairments are sufficient to merit due process protection.

(2) Probable cause is very subjective means of determining whether or not to file an attachment to the suit.  The interest is solely with the PL, and only PL gets to tell their side of the story, further hindering due process.

(3) The government’s interest in protecting the rights of PL cannot be any more weighty then those rights themselves, and here they are di minimus.

(4) Common law only favors pre-attachment in exigent circumstances, and here CT’s statute does nothing of the sort to elaborate on that issue, nor does the case-at-bar have a scintilla of information relating to the possibility that there is an exigent circumstance involved.

Rule: Three part test established in Mathews, and extended in this case, to determine when prejudgment remedy decisions to determine what process is due when the government itself seeks to effect a deprivation on its own initiative:

(1) the private interest that will be affected by the official action

(2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of addition or substitute safeguards

(3) principal attention to the interest of the party seeking the prejudgment remedy (pulled from this case)

Holding: No.  The prejudgment order exceeded the parameters of the test.  “by failing 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.”



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