Proceedings in Which Procedural Due Process Need Not Be Observed.

Although due notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard are two fundamental protections found in almost all systems of law established by civilized countries,848 there are certain proceedings in which the enjoyment of these two conditions has not been deemed to be constitutionally necessary. For instance, persons adversely affected by a law cannot challenge its validity on the ground that the legislative body that enacted it gave no notice of proposed legislation, held no hearings at which the person could have presented his arguments, and gave no consideration to particular points of view. “Where a rule of conduct applies to more than a few people it is impracticable that everyone should have a direct voice in its adoption. The Constitution does not require all public acts to be done in town meeting or an assembly of the whole. General statutes within the state power are passed that affect the person or property of individuals, sometimes to the point of ruin, without giving them a chance to be heard. Their rights are protected in the only way that they can be in a complex society, by their power, immediate or remote, over those who make the rule.”849

Similarly, when an administrative agency engages in a legislative function, as, for example, when it drafts regulations of general application affecting an unknown number of persons, it need not afford a hearing prior to promulgation.850 On the other hand, if a regulation, sometimes denominated an “order,” is of limited application, that is, it affects an identifiable class of persons, the question whether notice and hearing is required and, if so, whether it must precede such action, becomes a matter of greater urgency and must be determined by evaluating the various factors discussed below.851

One such factor is whether agency action is subject to later judicial scrutiny.852 In one of the initial decisions construing the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Court upheld the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury, acting pursuant to statute, to obtain money from a collector of customs alleged to be in arrears. The Treasury simply issued a distress warrant and seized the collector’s property, affording him no opportunity for a hearing, and requiring him to sue for recovery of his property. While acknowledging that history and settled practice required proceedings in which pleas, answers, and trials were requisite before property could be taken, the Court observed that the distress collection of debts due the crown had been the exception to the rule in England and was of long usage in the United States, and was thus sustainable.853

In more modern times, the Court upheld a procedure under which a state banking superintendent, after having taken over a closed bank and issuing notices to stockholders of their assessment, could issue execution for the amounts due, subject to the right of each stockholder to contest his liability for such an assessment by an affidavit of illegality. The fact that the execution was issued in the first instance by a governmental officer and not from a court, followed by personal notice and a right to take the case into court, was seen as unobjectionable.854

It is a violation of due process for a state to enforce a judgment against a party to a proceeding without having given him an opportunity to be heard sometime before final judgment is entered.855 With regard to the presentation of every available defense, however, the requirements of due process do not necessarily entail affording an opportunity to do so before entry of judgment. The person may be remitted to other actions initiated by him856 or an appeal may suffice. Accordingly, a surety company, objecting to the entry of a judgment against it on a supersedeas bond, without notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue of liability, was not denied due process where the state practice provided the opportunity for such a hearing by an appeal from the judgment so entered. Nor could the company found its claim of denial of due process upon the fact that it lost this opportunity for a hearing by inadvertently pursuing the wrong procedure in the state courts.857 On the other hand, where a state appellate court reversed a trial court and entered a final judgment for the defendant, a plaintiff who had never had an opportunity to introduce evidence in rebuttal to certain testimony which the trial court deemed immaterial but which the appellate court considered material was held to have been deprived of his rights without due process of law.858

Footnotes

848
Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 110 (1908); Jacob v. Roberts, 223 U.S. 261, 265 (1912). [Back to text]
849
Bi-Metallic Investment Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 239 U.S. 441, 445–46 (1915). See also Bragg v. Weaver, 251 U.S. 57, 58 (1919). Cf. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 445 U.S. 422, 432–33 (1982). [Back to text]
850
United States v. Florida East Coast Ry., 410 U.S. 224 (1973). [Back to text]
851
410 U.S. at 245 (distinguishing between rule-making, at which legislative facts are in issue, and adjudication, at which adjudicative facts are at issue, requiring a hearing in latter proceedings but not in the former). See Londoner v. City of Denver, 210 U.S. 373 (1908). [Back to text]
852
“It is not an indispensable requirement of due process that every procedure affecting the ownership or disposition of property be exclusively by judicial proceeding. Statutory proceedings affecting property rights which, by later resort to the courts, secures to adverse parties an opportunity to be heard, suitable to the occasion, do not deny due process.” Anderson Nat’l Bank v. Luckett, 321 U.S. 233, 246–47 (1944). [Back to text]
853
Murray’s Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co., 59 U.S. (18 How.) 272 (1856). [Back to text]
854
Coffin Brothers & Co. v. Bennett, 277 U.S. 29 (1928). [Back to text]
855
Postal Telegraph Cable Co. v. Newport, 247 U.S. 464, 476 (1918); Baker v. Baker, Eccles & Co., 242 U.S. 294, 403 (1917); Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Schmidt, 177 U.S. 230, 236 (1900). [Back to text]
856
Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, 65–69 (1972). However, if one would suffer too severe an injury between the doing and the undoing, he may avoid the alternative means. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 647 (1972). [Back to text]
857
American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U.S. 156 (1932). Cf. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 429–30, 432–33 (1982). [Back to text]
858
Saunders v. Shaw, 244 U.S. 317 (1917). [Back to text]