Hansberry v. Lee

311 U.S. 32, 61 S. Ct. 115 (1940)

 

RULE:

One is not bound by a judgment in personam in a litigation in which he is not designated as a party or to which he has not been made a party by service of process. A judgment rendered in such circumstances is not entitled to the full faith and credit which the Constitution and statute of the United States, and judicial action enforcing it against the person or property of the absent party is not that due process which the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments require. To these general rules there is a recognized exception that, to an extent not precisely defined by judicial opinion, the judgment in a "class" or "representative" suit, to which some members of the class are parties, may bind members of the class or those represented who were not made parties to it.

FACTS:

Respondents brought suit to enjoin a breach of an agreement restricting the use of an area of land. The agreement stipulated that for a specified period no part of the land should be sold, leased, or occupied by "any person of the colored race" and that the agreement should not be effective unless signed by the owners of 95 percent of the frontage. The United States Supreme Court held that the decree in the earlier suit was not res judicata as to petitioners because in seeking to enforce the agreement in the previous case, plaintiffs were not representing petitioners, whose substantial interest was in resisting performance, and for a court to ascribe to either plaintiffs or defendants the performance of representing petitioners would deny petitioners their due process rights.

ISSUE:

Did the state Supreme Court of Illinois deprive petitioners of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment by its adjudication that petitioners were bound by a judgment rendered in an earlier litigation to which they were not parties?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Others who were privy to the agreement, but not made parties to the litigation, and whose substantial interest was in resisting performance of the agreement, could not be bound by the decree upon the theory that the suit was a class suit in which they were duly represented. Moreover, it was said that a decree of the state court in a second, similar suit, adjudging such other persons estopped by the former decree as res judicata from defending upon the ground that the condition precedent of the agreement had not been fulfilled, was in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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