State action affecting property must generally be accompanied by notification of that action. An elementary and fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding that is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.
H. Everett Pope, Jr. was admitted to a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in November 1978. Five months later, while still at the hospital, he died testate. His wife, appellee JoAnne Pope, initiated probate proceedings in the District Court of Tulsa County in accordance with the statutory scheme. The probate court entered an order setting a hearing after which the court entered an order admitting the will to probate and, following the designation in the will, named appellee as the executrix of the estate. The court ordered appellee to fulfill her statutory obligation by directing that she immediately give notice to creditors. Appellee published notice in the Tulsa Daily Legal News for two consecutive weeks beginning July 17, 1979. The notice advised creditors that they must file any claim that they had against the estate within two months of the first publication of the notice. Appellant Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc., a subsidiary of the hospital and the assignee of a claim for expenses connected with the decedent's long stay at that hospital, failed to file a claim within the two-month time period following publication of notice. For this reason, the probate court denied appellant's application for payment of expenses of the decedent's last illness. Both the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed, rejecting appellant's contention that, in failing to require more than publication notice, the non-claim statute violated due process. Thereafter, appellant challenged the state supreme court’s decision.
Was failure to give a creditor actual notice of probate proceedings a denial of its due process?
The Court held that appellant's claim was a private property interest, protected from state action by U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The probate court's involvement was substantial enough to constitute state action because it was intimately involved throughout the notice procedure, and the non-claim statute became operative only after commencement of probate. The Court held that because operation of the statute could have adversely affected appellant's property interest, it was not a self-executing statute of limitations. According to the Court, due process required that appellant be given notice by mail or other means certain to ensure actual notice, if appellant’s identity was known or reasonably ascertainable by the appellee.