Fuentes v. Shevin

407 U.S. 67 rehearing denied; 409 U.S. 902 (1972)


Florida's replevin statute permitted any person whose goods or chattel were wrongfully detained by any other person to obtain a writ of replevin to recover them. There was no need to show that the goods were wrongfully detained before seizure by replevin. The procedure required a person to file a complaint that requested the writ of replevin and alleges that the goods had been wrongfully detained. A bond for twice the value had to be filed, and the sheriff would pick up the chattels and serve the summons and complaint on the other party. The officer seizing the property must keep it for three days. During that period, the defendant may reclaim possession by posting his own security bond for double the property's value, in default of which the property is transferred to the applicant for the writ, pending a final judgment in the underlying repossession action. Fuentes (P), a Florida resident, had her stove and stereo picked up by the sheriff after she had fallen behind on payments to Firestone. There was a dispute over repairs under the service policy for the stove with only $200 remaining on the balance. The complaint and summons were served with the writ of replevin. P then instituted this present action challenging the constitutionality of the replevin statute. 

Pennsylvania's statute was the same except there was the possibility that the defendant may never be granted a hearing because the writ was an independent action that did not require a lawsuit. The process was done through a prothonotary issuing the writ rather than a court clerk. To obtain a hearing, the party whose property was seized must initiate a lawsuit. Both statutes allowed the party whose property was to be seized to post a bond within three days for twice the value and retain possession. Appellants under the Pennsylvania statute fell behind in their payments and had their property repossessed too. Washington (P), had been divorced from a local deputy sheriff and was involved in a custody battle. The deputy used the replevin process to have his child's clothing, furnishings, and toys picked up from P. 

Both statutes were upheld by their state courts. The U.S. Supreme Court combined the actions; these statutes procedurally violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.