Greene v. Lindsey
456 U.S. 444 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Greene v. Lindsey, 456 U.S. 444 (1982)

Greene v. Lindsey

No. 81341

Argued February 23, 1982

Decided May 17, 1982

456 U.S. 444

Syllabus

A Kentucky statute permits service of process in forcible entry or detainer actions to be made by posting a summons "in a conspicuous place on the premises," if the defendant or a member of the defendant's family over 16 years of age cannot be found on the premises. Service of process under this statute was made on appellee tenants in a public housing project by posting a summons on the door of each of their apartments. Appellees claim that they never saw the summonses and did not know of the eviction proceedings until they were served with writs of possession, executed after default judgments had been entered against them and their opportunity for appeal had lapsed. They then filed a class action in Federal District Court against appellant public officials, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleging that the notice procedures employed violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment for appellants, holding that such notice procedures did not deny due process. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: In failing to afford appellees adequate notice of the proceedings against them before issuing final orders of eviction, the State deprived them of property without due process of law required by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 456 U. S. 449-456.

(a) "An elementary and fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding which is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections." Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co.,339 U. S. 306,3 339 U. S. 14. Pp. 456 U. S. 449-450.

(b) In light of the fact that appellees were deprived of a significant interest in property and, indeed, of the right to continued residence in their homes, it does not suffice to recite that, because the action was in rem, it was only necessary to serve notice "upon the thing itself." The sufficiency of the notice must be tested with reference to its ability to inform people of the pendency of proceedings that affect their interests. Pp. 456 U. S. 450-451.

(c) Notices posted on the doors of tenants' apartments were "not infrequently" removed before they could be seen by the tenants. Whatever

Page 456 U. S. 445

the efficacy of posting notice on a door of a person's home in many cases, it is clear that, in the circumstances of this case, merely posting notice on the apartment door did not satisfy minimum standards of due process. Pp. 456 U. S. 453-454.

(d) Neither the statute nor the practice of process servers provides for even a second attempt at personal service. The failure to effect personal service on the first visit hardly suggests that the tenant has abandoned his interest in the apartment such that mere pro forma notice might be constitutionally adequate. P. 456 U. S. 454.

(e) Notice by mail in the circumstances of this case would go a long way toward providing the constitutionally required assurance that the State has not allowed its power to be invoked against a person who has had no opportunity to present a defense. Pp. 456 U. S. 455-456.

649 F.2d 425, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 456.

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