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N. Ga. Finishing v. Di-Chem, Inc. - 419 U.S. 601, 95 S. Ct. 719 (1975)

Rule:

U.S. Const. amend. XIV draws no bright lines around three-day, 10-day, or 50-day deprivations of property. Any significant taking of property by the state is within the purview of the due process clause.

Facts:

Respondent Di-Chem, Inc. (“Di-Chem”) garnished petitioner North Georgia Finishing’s (“North Georgia”) bank account pursuant to Ga. Code Ann. §§ 46-101 through 104 and 46-401, which entitled Di-Chem to the process of garnishment in its suit against North Georgia absent notice or hearing in connection with issuance of the writ.  North Georgia argued that the statutory garnishment procedure violated its due process rights under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, but the state supreme court rejected North Georgia’s claims that the garnishment statute was invalid for failure to provide notice and hearing in connection with the issuance of the writ of garnishment North Georgia petitioned for further review.

Issue:

Did the statutory garnishment procedure violate plaintiff North Georgia’s due process rights?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment. The Court explained that North Georgia’s due process rights were violated where the statutory garnishment procedure allowed Di-Chem to obtain a writ issuable on an affidavit containing only conclusory allegations and issuable by a court clerk without participation by a judge.  Here, a bank account, which is surely a form of property, was impounded and, absent a bond, put totally beyond use during the pendency of the litigation on the alleged debt, all by a writ of garnishment issued by a court clerk without notice or opportunity for an early hearing and without participation by a judicial officer. Further, upon issuance of the writ, North Georgia was deprived of the use of his property without notice or hearing at which North Georgia would be required to demonstrate at least probable cause for the garnishment. The Court explained that the probability of irreparable injury was sufficiently great so as to require some procedures to guard against the risk of initial error in issuing the writ.

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