A state may, without violating the Fourteenth Amendment, protect
established possession of property against disturbance by anything
other than process of law.
Article 55, Code of Practice of Louisiana, providing that one
sued in a possessory action cannot bring a petitory action until
after judgment shall have been rendered in the possessory action,
and, in case he shall have been condemned, until he shall have
satisfied the judgment given against him, is not unconstitutional
under the due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.
131 La. 865 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the constitutionality, under the due
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, of Article 55,
Louisiana Code of Procedure, relating to possessory and petitory
actions, are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a possessory action for land, coupled with a demand for
damages for timber taken by the defendant, the plaintiff in error,
from the premises. After it was
Page 236 U. S. 134
begun, the defendant brought a petitory suit to establish its
title to the land, and sought for a stay of proceedings in the
present case until its title could be adjudicated, setting up that
to allow the plaintiff to recover the value of the timber without
proving ownership would be contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment and
a taking of the defendant's property without due process of law.
The plaintiff recovered a judgment for possession and money
damages, subject to a stay of execution, but the supreme court
struck the stay of execution out. It seems also to have ordered the
defendant's petitory suit to be dismissed. The ground for both
orders was Art. 55, Code of Practice.
"He who is sued in a possessory action cannot bring a petitory
action until after judgment shall have been rendered in the
possessory action, and until, if he has been condemned, he shall
have satisfied the judgment given against him."
The only question is whether this act is valid. Some argument
was attempted as to the scope and proper interpretation of the law,
but we have nothing to do with that.
It would be a surprising extension of the Fourteenth Amendment
if it were held to prohibit the continuance of one of the most
universal and best known distinctions of the mediaeval law. From
the exceptio spolii
of the Pseudo-Isidore, the Canon Law
and Bracton to the assize of novel disseisin the principle was of
very wide application that a wrongful disturbance of possession
must be righted before a claim of title would be listened to, or at
least that, in a proceeding to right such disturbance, a claim of
title could not be set up, and from Kant to Thering there has been
much philosophizing as to the grounds. But it is unnecessary to
follow the speculations, or to consider whether the principle is
eternal or a no longer useful survival. The constitutionality of
the law is independent of our views upon such points.
No doubt circumstances have changed. The proof of
Page 236 U. S. 135
title does not depend upon difficult evidence, technical
procedure, or the duel. Usually a few sheets of paper copied from
the registry and costing but a trifle will establish the right,
often with less trouble than it takes to prove possession. But
these are not the only considerations. The state is within its
constitutional power when it limits the sphere of self-help. It may
protect an established possession against disturbance by anything
except process of law. It may attach such consequences to the
disturbance as it sees fit, short of cruel and unusual punishment.
If it ordains a restitutio in integrum,
or its equivalent
in money, it not only is adopting a familiar remedy, but, with the
conditions attached in Louisiana, does not go so far as it might.
The law of Louisiana requires uninterrupted possession for a year
for the possessory action. Civil Code, Arts. 3454, 3455. If it had
made a year the limitation for a petitory suit, and had provided
that the title should be lost in that time, it would be hard to
maintain that it had exceeded its constitutional power. Blinn
v. Nelson, 222 U. S. 1
222 U. S. 7
Kentucky Union Co. v. Kentucky, 219 U.
, 219 U. S. 156
Turner v. New York, 168 U. S. 90