385 U.S. 1037 (1967)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WILLIAMS v. SHAFFER , 385 U.S. 1037 (1967)

385 U.S. 1037

Willie WILLIAMS et al., petitioners,
Joseph N. SHAFFER.
No. 824.

Supreme Court of the United States

January 23, 1967

Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Charles Stephen Ralston and Howard Moore, Jr., for petitioners. Arthur K. Bolton, Atty. Gen. of Georgia, and Harold N. Hill, Jr., and Alfred L. Evans, Jr., Asst. Attys. Gen., for respondent.

Petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Georgia.


Dissenting opinion by Mr. Justice DOUGLAS with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE concurs: This case involves an important question regarding the right of a poor tenant to remain in possession of his shelter and defend against eviction in a court of law. It is part of the larger problem regarding the inability of indigent and deprived persons to voice their complaints through the existing institutional framework, and vividly demonstrates the disparity between the access of the affluent to the judicial machinery and that of the poor in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The Georgia summary eviction statute provides that a landlord may oust a tenant in a very swift, expedient manner. The landlord files with a judge of the superior court or justice of the peace an affidavit that the tenant has held over or has failed to pay rent (Ga.Code Ann. 61-301 ( 1966)); and the judge issues a dispossessory warrant ordering the sheriff to evict the tenant and his possessions. Ga.Code Ann. 61-302 (1966). The tenant may arrest the proceedings and prevent his summary eviction by filing a counter-affidavit denying the landlord's allegations (Ga.Code Ann . 61-303 (1966)) and thereby obtain a jury trial on the facts in issue. Ga.Code Ann. 61-304 (1966). But in order to remain in possession and obtain a trial (see Ga.Code Ann. 61-304 (1966)) the tenant must 'tender a bond with good security, payable to the landlord, for the payment of such sum, with costs, as may be recovered against him on the

Page 385 U.S. 1037 , 1038

trial of the case.'1 Ga.Code Ann. 61-303 (1966). If the tenant is not able to furnish the security bond, he is summarily evicted. The effect is that the indigent tenant is deprived of his shelter, and the life of his family is disrupted-all without a hearing-solely because of his poverty.

In this case respondent, petitioners' landlord, obtained a dispossessory warrant after filing an affidavit that petitioners had failed to pay rent. Petitioners attempted to file counter-affidavits raising a number of defenses, together with affidavits that they were unable to post security due to their indigency. Apparently the affidavits were rejected. Petitioners then petitioned the Superior Court attempting to arrest the summary eviction. They sought vacation of the dispossessory warrants and injunctions against the landlord and the sheriff restraining them from executing the warrants. Each petitioner offered to pay into the court registry any rents due or to become due during the pendency of the action. Their petitions were denied and the action dismissed. Thereafter, petitioners were summarily evicted. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the case was moot because petitioners had been evicted.

The State, acting on the landlord's behalf, argues that certiorari should be denied on that ground. Whether [385 U.S. 1037 , 1039]

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