Amdt14.S1.5.4.2 Commencement of Actions

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

A state may impose certain conditions on the right to institute litigation. Access to the courts has been denied to persons instituting stockholders’ derivative actions unless reasonable security for the costs and fees incurred by the corporation is first tendered. 1 But, foreclosure of all access to the courts, through financial barriers and perhaps through other means as well, is subject to federal constitutional scrutiny and must be justified by reference to a state interest of suitable importance. Thus, where a state has monopolized the avenues of settlement of disputes between persons by prescribing judicial resolution, and where the dispute involves a fundamental interest, such as marriage and its dissolution, the state may not deny access to those persons unable to pay its fees. 2

Older cases, which have not been questioned by more recent ones, held that a state, as the price of opening its tribunals to a nonresident plaintiff, may exact the condition that the nonresident stand ready to answer all cross actions filed and accept any in personam judgments obtained by a resident defendant through service of process or appropriate pleading upon the plaintiff’s attorney of record. 3 For similar reasons, a requirement of the performance of a chemical analysis as a condition precedent to a suit to recover for damages resulting to crops from allegedly deficient fertilizers, while allowing other evidence, was not deemed arbitrary or unreasonable. 4

Amendment of pleadings is largely within the discretion of the trial court, and unless a gross abuse of discretion is shown, there is no ground for reversal. Accordingly, where the defense sought to be interposed is without merit, a claim that due process would be denied by rendition of a foreclosure decree without leave to file a supplementary answer is utterly without foundation. 5

Footnotes

  1.  Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541 (1949). Nor did the retroactive application of this statutory requirement to actions pending at the time of its adoption violate due process as long as no new liability for expenses incurred before enactment was imposed thereby and the only effect thereof was to stay such proceedings until the security was furnished.
  2.  Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371 (1971). See also Little v. Streater, 452 U.S. 1 (1981) (state-mandated paternity suit); Lassiter v. Department of Social Services, 452 U.S. 18 (1981) (parental status termination proceeding); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982) (permanent termination of parental custody).
  3.  Young Co. v. McNeal-Edwards Co., 283 U.S. 398 (1931); Adam v. Saenger, 303 U.S. 59 (1938).
  4.  Jones v. Union Guano Co., 264 U.S. 171 (1924).
  5.  Sawyer v. Piper, 189 U.S. 154 (1903).