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Law School Case Brief

Boddie v. Connecticut - 401 U.S. 371, 91 S. Ct. 780 (1971)


The Constitution of the United States requires an opportunity granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner, for a hearing appropriate to the nature of the case. The formality and procedural requisites for the hearing can vary, depending upon the importance of the interests involved and the nature of the subsequent proceedings. That the hearing required by due process is subject to waiver, and is not fixed in form does not affect its root requirement that an individual be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest, except for extraordinary situations where some valid governmental interest is at stake that justifies postponing the hearing until after the event. In short, within the limits of practicability, a state must afford to all individuals a meaningful opportunity to be heard if it is to fulfill the promise of the Due Process Clause. 


Plaintiffs Boddie and others filed a class action in federal district court on behalf of all female welfare recipients residing in Connecticut who wished for a divorce but was prevented from bringing divorce suits as a result of Connecticut statutes requiring payment of court fees and costs for service of process as a condition precedent to access to the courts. Plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring the statutes invalid as applied to the class and an injunction requiring defendant State of Connecticut to permit members of the class to sue for divorce without payment of any fees and costs. There was no dispute as to the inability of plaintiffs to pay the court fees or costs. A three-judge court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs appealed.


Can a state limit access to its divorce courts by requiring payment of a filing fee or other fees as a prerequisite to commencing an action for divorce?




The Supreme Court of the United States concluded that due process prohibited the State from denying, solely because of inability to pay, access to its courts to individuals who sought judicial dissolution of their marriages. The Court took into consideration the basic position of the marriage relationship in society's hierarchy of values and the concomitant state monopolization of the means for legally dissolving that relationship. The Court held that a state could not, consistent with the obligations imposed on it by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, pre-empt the right to dissolve that legal relationship without affording all citizens access to the means it had prescribed for doing so.

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