405 U.S. 538 (1972), 70-5058, Lynch v. Household Finance Corp.

Docket NºNo. 70-5058
Citation405 U.S. 538, 92 S.Ct. 1113, 31 L.Ed.2d 424
Party NameLynch v. Household Finance Corp.
Case DateMarch 23, 1972
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 538

405 U.S. 538 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 1113, 31 L.Ed.2d 424



Household Finance Corp.

No. 70-5058

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1972

Argued December 7, 1971




Appellee Household Finance Corp. sued appellant Lynch in state court alleging nonpayment of a promissory note, and, prior to serving her with process, garnished her savings account under Connecticut law authorizing summary pre-judicial garnishment. Appellant challenged the validity of the state statutes [92 S.Ct. 1115] under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). The District Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds (1) that it lacked jurisdiction under § 1343(3), as that section applies only if "personal" rights, as opposed to "property" rights, are impaired, and (2) that relief was barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2283, proscribing injunctions against state court proceedings.


1. There is no distinction between personal liberties and proprietary rights with respect to jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). Pp. 542-552.

(a) Neither the language nor the legislative history of that section distinguishes between personal and property rights. Pp. 543-546.

(b) There is no conflict between that section and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the legislative history of § 1331 does not provide any basis for narrowing the scope of § 1343(3) jurisdiction. Pp. 546-550.

(c) It would be virtually impossible to apply a "personal liberties" limitation on § 1343(3), as there is no real dichotomy between personal liberties and property rights. It has long been recognized that rights in property are basic civil rights. Pp. 550-552.

2. Prejudgment garnishment under the Connecticut statutes is levied and maintained without the participation of the state courts, and thus an injunction against such action is not barred by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 2283. Pp. 552-556.

318 F.Supp. 1111, reversed and remanded.

Page 539

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 556. POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1968, the appellant, Mrs. Dorothy Lynch, a resident of New Haven, Connecticut, directed her employer to deposit $10 of her $69 weekly wage in a credit union savings account. In 1969, appellee Household Finance Corp. sued Mrs. Lynch for $525 in a state court, alleging nonpayment of a promissory note. Before she was served with process, the appellee corporation garnished her savings account under the provisions of Connecticut law that authorize summary pre-judicial garnishment at the behest of attorneys for alleged creditors.1

The appellant then brought this class action in a federal district court against Connecticut sheriffs who levy on bank accounts and against creditors who invoke

Page 540

the garnishment statute.2 Mrs. Lynch alleged that she had no prior notice of the garnishment and no opportunity to be heard. She claimed that the state statutes were invalid under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 19833 and its jurisdictional counterpart, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).4 A district court of three judges was convened to hear the claim under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284.

Page 541

The District Court did not reach the merits of the case. It dismissed the complaint without an evidentiary hearing on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction under § 1343(3), and that relief was bared by the statute prohibiting injunctions against state court proceedings, 28 U.S.C. § 2283. 318 F.Supp. 1111. We noted probable jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1253,5 to consider the jurisdictional issues presented. 401 U.S. 935.

Page 542

We hold, for the reasons that follow, that neither § 1343(3) nor § 2283 warranted dismissal of the appellant's complaint. Accordingly, we remand the case to the District Court for consideration of the remaining issues in this litigation.


In dismissing the appellant's complaint, the District Court held that § 1343(3) [92 S.Ct. 1117] applies only if "personal" rights, as opposed to "property" rights, are allegedly impaired. The court relied on the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Eisen v. Eastman, 421 F.2d 560, 563, which rested, in turn, on Mr. Justice Stone's well known opinion a generation ago in Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 531. See also, e.g., Weddle v. Director, 436 F.2d 342; Bussie v. Long, 383 F.2d 766; Howard v. Higgins, 379 F.2d 227.

This Court has never adopted the distinction between personal liberties and proprietary rights as a guide to the contours of § 1343(3) jurisdiction.6 Today we expressly reject that distinction.

Page 543


Neither the words of § 1343(3) nor the legislative history of that provision distinguishes between personal and property rights. In fact, the Congress that enacted the predecessor of §§ 1983 and 1343(3) seems clearly to have intended to provide a federal judicial forum for the redress of wrongful deprivations of property by persons acting under color of state law.

This Court has traced the origin of § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27. Adickes v. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 162-163; Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 171, 183-185.7 That Act guaranteed "broad and sweeping . . [92 S.Ct. 1118] . protection"

Page 544

to basic civil rights. Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, 396 U.S. 229, 237. Acquisition, enjoyment, and alienation of property were among those rights. Jones v. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 432.8

The Fourteenth Amendment vindicated for all persons the rights established by the Act of 1866. Monroe, supra, at 171; Hague, supra, at 509-510.

It cannot be doubted that among the civil rights intended to be protected from discriminatory state action by the Fourteenth Amendment are the rights to acquire, enjoy, own and dispose of property. Equality in the enjoyment of property rights was regarded by the framers of that Amendment as an essential pre-condition to the realization of other basic civil rights and liberties which the Amendment was intended to guarantee.

Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 10. See also Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 74-79; H. Flack, The Adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment 75-78, 81, 997 (1908); J. tenBroek, The Anti-slavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951).

Page 545

The broad concept of civil rights embodied in the 1866 Act and in the Fourteenth Amendment is unmistakably evident in the legislative history of § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, the direct lineal ancestor of §§ 1983 and 1343(3). Not only was § 1 of the 1871 Act derived from § 2 of the 1866 Act,9 but the 1871 Act was passed for the express purpose of "enforc[ing] the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment." 17 Stat. 13. And the rights that Congress sought to protect in the Act of 1871 were described by the chairman of the House Select Committee that drafted the legislation as "the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety." Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 69, (1871) (Rep. Shellabarger, [92 S.Ct. 1119] quoting from Corfield v. Coryell, 6 F.Cas. 546, 551-552 (No. 3230) (CCED Pa.)).

Page 546

That the protection of property as well as personal rights was intended is also confirmed by President Grant's message to Congress urging passage of the legislation,10 and by the remarks of many members of Congress during the legislative debates.11


In 1875, Congress granted the federal courts jurisdiction of "all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity . . . arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States." 18 Stat. 470. Unlike § 1343(3), this general federal question provision, the forerunner of 28 U.S.C. § 1331, required that a minimum amount in controversy be alleged and proved.12 Mr. Justice Stone's opinion in Hague, supra, as well as the federal court decisions that followed it, e.g., Eisen v. Eastman, 421 F.2d 560, reflect the view that there is an apparent

Page 547

conflict between §§ 1343(3) and 1331,13 i.e., that a broad reading of § 1343(3) to include all rights secured by the Constitution would render § 1331, and its amount in controversy requirement, superfluous. These opinions sought to harmonize the two jurisdictional provisions by construing § 1343(3) as conferring federal jurisdiction of suits brought under § 1983 only when the right asserted is personal, not proprietary.

The initial failure of this reasoning is that the supposed conflict between §§ 1343(3) and 1331 simply does not exist. Section 1343(3) applies only to alleged infringements of rights under "color of . . . State law," whereas § 1331 contains no such requirement. Thus, for example, in suits against federal officials for alleged deprivations of constitutional rights, it is necessary to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement for federal jurisdiction. See Oestereich v. Selective Service Board, 393 U.S. 233; Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388.

But the more fundamental point to be made is that any such contraction of § 1343(3) jurisdiction is not

Page 548

supported by the legislative history of § 1331. The 1875 Act giving the federal courts power to hear suits arising under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution was, like the Act of 1871, an expansion of national authority over matters that, before the Civil War, had been...

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