Fuentes v. Shevin – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 92 S. Ct. 1983, 32 L. Ed. 2d 556 (1972).

Facts

Margarita Fuentes (P) purchased a gas stove and service policy and a stereo from the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. (Shevin, D) on credit for $600. Under the contracts, Fuentes had possession of the merchandise but Firestone retained title to the merchandise and was entitled to recover it if Fuentes defaulted on the monthly payments.

Fuentes owed a balance of $200 on the merchandise when a dispute arose over the servicing agreement under the contract. Firestone instituted an action in a small claims court for repossession of both the stove and the stereo and obtained a writ of replevin ordering a sheriff to repossess the property before providing Fuentes with notice.

Under Florida state procedure, Firestone had merely to fill in the blanks on the appropriate forms and submit them to the clerk of the small claims court. The clerk signed and stamped the documents and issued a writ of replevin. A local deputy sheriff and an agent of Firestone went to Mrs. Fuentes’s home and seized the stove and stereo later the same day.

Fuentes brought this lawsuit in federal district court, asserting that the Florida prejudgment replevin procedures were unconstitutional in light of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Fuentes sought injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment against enforcement of the prejudgment replevin statutes.

Issue

Does due process under the Fourteenth Amendment require that parties facing a replevin action be notified in a timely manner and given an opportunity to be heard prior to a prejudgment seizure?

Holding and Rule

Yes. Due process under the Fourteenth Amendment requires that affected parties in a replevin action must be notified in a timely manner and given an opportunity to be heard prior to a prejudgment seizure.

The court held that if the creditor violates the debtor’s due process rights by seizing property in accordance with statutory procedures, there is little or no reason to deny to the latter a cause of action under the federal statute § 1983 designed to provide judicial redress for such constitutional violations.

The court held that parties have the right to prior notice and a hearing to prevent arbitrary deprivation of property. Any significant property interest is protected by the due process clause, and any temporary, non-final deprivation of property is nonetheless a deprivation in the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court rejected a due process distinction between property for absolute necessities of life and other property.

Disposition

Reversed; judgment for Fuentes.

This opinion focused on issues of constitutional law and did not address traditional contract law doctrines such as promissory estoppel, whereby promises that are not supported by consideration may nevertheless be held enforceable in certain circumstances on a showing of detrimental reliance by the plaintiff.


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