419 U.S. 393 (1975), 73-762, Sosna v. Iowa

Docket Nº:No. 73-762
Citation:419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532
Party Name:Sosna v. Iowa
Case Date:January 14, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 393

419 U.S. 393 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532




No. 73-762

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 14, 1975

Argued October 17, 1974




Appellant's petition for divorce was dismissed by an Iowa trial court for lack of jurisdiction because she failed to meet the Iowa statutory requirement that a petitioner in a divorce action be a resident of the State for one year preceding the filing of the petition. Appellant then brought a class action under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23 in the Federal District Court against appellees State and state trial judge, asserting that Iowa's durational residency requirement violated the Federal Constitution on equal protection and due process grounds and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. After certifying that appellant represented the class of persons residing in Iowa for less than a year who desired to initiate divorce actions, the three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute.


1. The fact that appellant had long since satisfied the durational residency requirement by the time the case reached this Court does not moot the case, since the controversy remains very much alive for the class of unnamed persons whom she represents and who, upon certification of the class action, acquired a legal status separate from her asserted interest. Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330. Pp. 397-403.

(a) Where, as here, the issue sought to be litigated escapes full appellate review at the behest of any single challenger, the case does not inexorably become moot by the intervening resolution of the controversy as to the named plaintiffs. P. 401.

(b) At the time the class action was certified, appellant demonstrated a "real and immediate" threat of injury and belonged to the class that she sought to represent. Pp. 402-403.

(c) The test of Rule 23(a) that the named representative in a class action "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class," is met here, where it is unlikely that segments of the class represented would have interests conflicting with appellant's, and the interests of the class have been competently urged at each level of the proceeding. P. 403.

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2. The Iowa durational residency requirement for divorce is not unconstitutional. Pp. 404-410.

(a) Such requirement is not unconstitutional on the alleged ground that it establishes two classes of persons and discriminates against those who have recently exercised their right to travel to Iowa. Appellant was not irretrievably foreclosed from obtaining some part of what she sought, and such requirement may reasonably be justified on grounds of the State's interest in requiring those seeking a divorce from its courts to be genuinely attached to the State, as well as of the State's desire to insulate its divorce [95 S.Ct. 555] decrees from the likelihood of successful collateral attack. Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618; Dunn, supra; Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250, distinguished. Pp. 406-409.

(b) Nor does the durational residency requirement violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the asserted ground that it denies a litigant the opportunity to make an individualized showing of bona fide residence, and thus bars access to the divorce courts. Even if appellant could make an individualized showing of physical presence plus the intent to remain, she would not be entitled to a divorce, for Iowa requires not merely "domicile" in that sense, but residence in the State for one year. See Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 452. Moreover, no total deprivation of access to divorce courts, but only delay in such access, is involved here. Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, distinguished. Pp. 409-410.

360 F.Supp. 1182, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 410. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 418.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant Carol Sosna married Michael Sosna on September 5, 1964, in Michigan. They lived together in New York between October, 1967, and August, 1971, after which date they separated but continued to live in New York. In August, 1972, appellant moved to Iowa with her three children, and the following month she petitioned the District Court of Jackson County, Iowa, for a dissolution of her marriage. Michael Sosna, who had been personally served with notice of the action when he came to Iowa to visit his children, made a special appearance to contest the jurisdiction of the Iowa court. The Iowa court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, finding that Michael Sosna was not a resident of Iowa and appellant had not been a resident of the State of Iowa for one year preceding the filing of her petition. In so doing, the Iowa court applied the provisions of Iowa Code § 598.6 (1973) requiring that the petitioner in such an action be "for the last year a resident of the state."1

Instead of appealing this ruling to the Iowa appellate courts, appellant filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa asserting that Iowa's durational residency requirement for invoking

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its divorce jurisdiction violated the United States Constitution. She sought both injunctive and declaratory relief against the appellees in this case, one of which is the State of Iowa,2 and the other of whom is the judge of the District Court of Jackson County, Iowa, who had previously dismissed her petition.

A three-judge court, convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284, held that the Iowa durational residency requirement was constitutional. 360 F.Supp. 1182 (1973). We noted probable jurisdiction, 415 U.S. 911 (1974), and directed the parties to discuss

whether the United States District Court should have proceeded to the merits of the constitutional issue presented in light of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) and related cases.

For reasons stated in this opinion, we decide that this case is not moot, and hold that the Iowa durational residency requirement for divorce does not offend the United States Constitution.3

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Appellant sought certification of her suit as a class action pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23 so that she might represent the

class of those residents of the State of Iowa who have resided therein for a period of less than one year and who desire to initiate actions for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, and who are barred from doing so by the one-year durational residency requirement embodied in Sections 598.6 and 598.9 of the Code of Iowa.4

The parties stipulated that there were in the State of Iowa "numerous people in the same situation as plaintiff," that joinder of those persons was impracticable, that appellant's claims were representative of the class, and that she would fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. See Rule 23(a). This stipulation was approved by the District

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Court in a pretrial order.5 After the submission of briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law by the parties, the three-judge court, by a divided, vote upheld the constitutionality of the statute.

While the parties may be permitted to waive nonjurisdictional defects, they may not by stipulation invoke the judicial power of the United States in litigation which does not present an [95 S.Ct. 557] actual "case or controversy," Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974), and, on the record before us, we feel obliged to address the question of mootness before reaching the merits of appellant's claim. At the time the judgment of the three-judge court was handed down, appellant had not yet resided in Iowa for one year, and that court was clearly presented with a case or controversy in every sense contemplated by Art. III of the Constitution.6 By the time her case reached this Court, however, appellant had long since satisfied the Iowa durational residency requirement, and Iowa Code 598.6 (1973) no longer stood as a barrier to her attempts to secure dissolution of her marriage in the Iowa courts.7 This is not an unusual development in a case challenging the validity of a durational residency requirement, for in many cases, appellate review

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will not be completed until after the plaintiff has satisfied the residency requirement about which complaint was originally made.

If appellant had sued only on her own behalf, both the fact that she now satisfies the one-year residency requirement and the fact that she has obtained a divorce elsewhere would make this case moot, and require dismissal. Alton v. Alton, 207 F.2d 667 (CA3 1953), dismissed as moot, 347 U.S. 610 (1954); SEC v. Medical Committee for Human Rights, 404 U.S. 403 (1972). But appellant brought this suit as a class action and sought to litigate the constitutionality of the durational residency requirement in a representative capacity. When the District Court certified the propriety of the class action, the class of unnamed persons described in the certification acquired a legal status separate from the interest asserted by appellant.8 We are of the view that this factor significantly affects the mootness determination.

In Southern Pacific Terminal Co. v. ICC, 219 U.S. 498 (1911), where a challenged ICC order had expired, and in Moore v. Ogilvie, 394 U.S. 814 (1969), where petitioners sought to be certified as candidates in an election that had already been held, the Court expressed its concern that the defendants in those cases could be expected again to act contrary to the rights asserted by the particular named plaintiffs involved, and in each case the controversy...

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