407 U.S. 67
SYNOPSIS: Petitioners challenged the decisions from the United States District Courts for the Southern District of Florida and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which upheld the constitutionality of laws authorizing the summary seizure of goods or chattels in a person's possession under a writ of replevin. Petitioners alleged that the statutory procedures deprived them of their property without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
-Margarita Fuentes, is a Florida resident.
-She purchased a gas stove and service policy from Firestone under a conditional sales contract calling for monthly payments over a period of time.
-A few months later, she purchased a stereophonic phonograph from the same company under the same sort of contract.
-The total cost of the stove and stereo was about $ 500, plus an additional financing charge of over $ 100.
-Under the contracts, Firestone retained title to the merchandise, but Mrs. Fuentes was entitled to possession unless and until she should default on her installment payments.
-For over a year, Mrs. Fuentes made her installment payments.
-With only about $ 200 remaining to be paid, a dispute developed between her and Firestone over the servicing of the stove.
-Firestone instituted an action in a small-claims court for repossession of both the stove and the stereo, claiming that Mrs. Fuentes had refused to make her remaining payments.
-Simultaneously with the filing of that action and before Mrs. Fuentes had even received a summons to answer its complaint, Firestone obtained a writ of replevin ordering a sheriff to seize the disputed goods at once.
-In conformance with Florida procedure, Firestone had only to fill in the blanks on the appropriate form documents and submit them to the clerk of the small-claims court.
-The clerk signed and stamped the documents and issued a writ of replevin.
-Later the same day, a local deputy sheriff and an agent of Firestone went to Mrs. Fuentes' home and seized the stove and stereo.
-The Court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
-Florida and Pennsylvania statutes authorized the summary seizure of goods or chattels in a person's possession under a writ of replevin, and neither provided for notice or hearing prior to seizure. -Petitioners argued that the statutes deprived them of property in their possession in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- On review, the Supreme Court found that the statutes' prejudgment replevin provisions deprived petitioners of their property without due process insofar as they denied the right to prior notice and hearing before property was taken.
-The Court noted that states had the power to seize goods prior to a final judgment in order to protect creditor's security interests, but only after the creditor tested their claim to the goods through the process of a fair prior hearing.
-The Court rejected any argument that petitioners waived their basic procedural rights due to general terms of default printed in small type on the back of the conditional sales contracts and unaccompanied by explanation or clarification.
OUTCOME: The Court vacated the judgments of the district courts and remanded the causes for further proceedings.
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