Peralta v. Heights Medical Center, Inc.

485 U. S. 80

February 24, 1988

A man named Peralta was sued in order to recover a debt. Peralta was never served with notice of the suit though. He did not appear, and default judgment was entered against him. He moved to set aside the decision because of the faulty notice, but the Texas courts refused, reasoning that he needed to show that he could have won the case even with proper notice. Peralta said that this reasoning violated the Due Process clause.

With White writing, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed (Kennedy did not participate). White found it an easy case, as service with notice is a bedrock requirement of due process. That Peralta would have had no legal defense did not matter, because he might have been able to settle the case before trial, and he was unfairly caught off guard when a lien was attached to his property to satisfy the debt. The Court made the legally correct ruling, but I’m not sure how right it was as a matter of natural justice. The American system cares far too much about processes, rights, and checking off boxes, and far too little about truth, justice, and righteousness. If Peralta really did owe the debt, he ought to have to pay it, and not get let off the hook for a procedural quirk.

One other thing – (a thing which I could just as easily have first brought up in any number of cases) – what the heck is Peralta’s first name? After giving his last name in the opening sentence of the decision, Justice White calls him “appellant” for the remainder of the opinion. I hate that. Every single Supreme Court case affects real living humans. They should not be de-personalized into oblivion. As I said sometime ago, laws were created for men, not men for laws.

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