JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Heights Medical Center, Inc. (hereafter appellee), sued appellant Peralta in February 1982 to recover some $5,600 allegedly due under appellant's guarantee of a hospital debt incurred by one of his employees. Citation issued, the return showing personal, but untimely, service. Appellant did not appear or answer, and on July 20, 1982, default judgment was entered for the amount claimed, plus attorney's fees and costs.
In June 1984, appellant began a bill of review proceeding in the Texas courts to set aside the default judgment and obtain other relief.
Appellee filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that in a bill of review proceeding such as appellant filed, it must be shown that petitioner had a meritorious defense to the action in which judgment had been entered, that petitioner was prevented from proving his defense by the fraud, accident, or wrongful act of the opposing party, and that there had been no fault or negligence on petitioner's part. Although it was assumed for the purposes of summary judgment that there had been defective service and that this lapse excused proof of the second and third requirement for obtaining a bill of review, it was assertedly necessary, nevertheless, to show a meritorious defense, which appellant had conceded
Appellant's motion for rehearing for the first time asserted federal constitutional claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. Appellee answered that under Texas law there were three avenues by which to attack a judgment on the grounds that it was void for want of service: an appeal within 30 days of the judgment; by writ of error within 6 months; and by bill of review. It being too late to seek either of the first two courses, appellee urged that the bill of review was the only route then open to appellant, and that route was not available to him — even assuming he did not receive notice of the action filed against him — since he had no meritorious defense. Appellee denied that the meritorious-defense requirement threatened any federal constitutional rights. Rehearing was denied.
On appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals, appellant repeated his claims that in the absence of valid service of process and notice of the judgment, showing a meritorious defense was not necessary under Texas law and requiring it violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Appellee argued that despite the allegation of no service and no notice of judgment, the meritorious-defense requirement prevented relief and that even though the bill of review was the only avenue of relief, the State could constitutionally insist on the showing of a meritorious defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reciting the three elements essential for granting a bill of review and holding that a meritorious defense must be shown
Because the holding below appeared problematic in light of our precedents, we noted probable jurisdiction. 481 U.S. 1067 (1987). The case was briefed and argued, and we now reverse.
In opposition to summary judgment, appellant denied that he had been personally served and that he had notice of the judgment. The case proceeded through the Texas courts on that basis,
The Texas courts nevertheless held, as appellee urged them to do, that to have the judgment set aside, appellant was required to show that he had a meritorious defense, apparently on the ground that without a defense, the same judgment would again be entered on retrial and hence appellant had suffered no harm from the judgment entered without notice. But this reasoning is untenable. As appellant asserts, had he had notice of the suit, he might have impleaded the employee whose debt had been guaranteed, worked out a settlement, or paid the debt. He would also have preferred to sell his property himself in order to raise funds rather than to suffer it sold at a constable's auction.
Nor is there any doubt that the entry of the judgment itself had serious consequences. It is not denied that the judgment was entered on the county records, became a lien on appellant's property,
In this Court, appellee insists that appellant has other remedies to escape the consequences of an invalid judgment and should be left to pursue those avenues. This argument, which is made for the first time in this litigation and which appellant disputes, is apparently offered as an alternative ground for affirming the judgment below. We are not required, however, to entertain such submissions, particularly when there is no indication that they were raised below, and we are especially disinclined to become involved in resolving disputes about Texas law that should have been presented to the state courts. We shall deal with the case as it came here and affirm or reverse based on the ground relied on below.
Appellee's position below was that appellant either had a remedy by bill of review or not at all, and that that remedy was unavailable since no meritorious defense had been shown. It appears to us that the Texas courts decided the case on this basis. There was no mention of other remedies, no suggestion that appellant had sought the wrong remedy; and it seems obvious that had a meritorious defense been shown, and the allegations on service and notice found to be true, the offending judgment would have been vacated. The Texas court held that the default judgment must stand absent a showing of a meritorious defense to the action in which judgment was entered without proper notice to appellant, a judgment that had substantial adverse consequences to appellant. By reason of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that holding is plainly infirm.
Where a person has been deprived of property in a manner contrary to the most basic tenets of due process, "it is no answer to say that in his particular case due process of law would have led to the same result because he had no adequate
The judgment below is
JUSTICE KENNEDY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
"On expiration of the time within which the trial court has plenary power, a judgment cannot be set aside by the trial court except by bill of review for sufficient cause, filed within the time allowed by law; provided that the court may at any time correct a clerical error in the record of a judgment and render judgment nunc pro tunc under Rule 316, and may also sign an order declaring a previous judgment or order to be void because signed after the court's plenary power had expired."