MITCHELL v. W. T. GRANT CO.

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
72-6160
Petitioner 
Lawrence Mitchell
Respondent 
W. T. Grant Company
Advocates
(for the respondent)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Lawrence Mitchell purchased a refrigerator, range, stereo, and washing machine from W. T. Grant Company and fell behind on payments. W. T. Grant sued Mitchell in state court to recover the $574.17 balance. Pursuant to Louisiana law, W. T. Grant offered proof that it had a vendor’s lien on the property and that Mitchell owed a balance and asked the court to issue a writ of sequestration to retain and hold the property pending the outcome of the suit. The trial court approved the writ without notifying Mitchell or allowing him an opportunity to defend his right to the property at a hearing. Mitchell moved to dissolve the writ of sequestration and argued that seizing his property without notice or an opportunity to defend his interest in the property violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The trial court, the appellate court, and the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Mitchell’s argument and held that W. T. Grant’s course of conduct ensured Mitchell’s due process by proceeding according to Louisiana law.

Question 

Does sequestration of a debtor’s property without providing the debtor notice or a hearing to defend an interest in the property violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for W. T. Grant Co., 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

No. Justice Byron R. White wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority. The Court held that Louisiana’s procedure for sequestering property provided both the buyer and the seller with a fair opportunity to secure and defend their respective interests in the challenged property. W. T. Grant Company provided a sworn statement documenting proof of the debt, the lien, and delinquency, all of which showed the judge that Mitchell’s title to the property was encumbered. Additional safeguards in the Louisiana law required creditors to place a bond down at the time of sequestration to secure the buyer’s interests should the proceedings show that sequestration was wrongful. The Court held that these safeguards, coupled with Louisiana’s interest in preventing the buyer from transferring or concealing the property to the detriment of the creditor, justified sequestration without notice or a hearing.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. wrote that the majority opinion overturned the rule established in Fuentes v. Shevin. In that case, the Court held that procedural due process required “an adversary hearing before an individual may be temporarily deprived of any possessory interest in . . . property.” Justice Powell argued that the Fuentes rule was unnecessarily broad and that the narrower grounds the majority set forth represented a better balance of the interests of creditors and debtors.

Justice Potter Stewart wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that the Court should adhere to the Fuentes rule. According to this rule, the Louisiana procedures violated due process by allowing the government to deprive a person of property with no advance notice or opportunity to be heard. Justice William O. Douglas, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. joined the dissent.

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MITCHELL v. W. T. GRANT CO.. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 April 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1973/1973_72_6160>.
MITCHELL v. W. T. GRANT CO., The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1973/1973_72_6160 (last visited April 25, 2015).
"MITCHELL v. W. T. GRANT CO.," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1973/1973_72_6160.