Procedural Due Process Requires Notice Before Entry of Judgment

February 21, 2013 | Erika Eckley

The most basic premise of Iowa’s legal system is procedural due process. Any time the state acts or threatens to act to deprive a person of a protected liberty or property interest, the state must provide notice reasonably calculated to apprise the person of the action to be taken and provide an opportunity for the person to present his or her objections. In a recent case, the Iowa Court of Appeals was asked to review the procedural propriety of a judgment entered by the court against an individual for his role as executor of his mother’s estate.

The decedent had given her son power of attorney a few months before her death. Her son was also named as executor of her estate. The son was appointed, qualified, and issued letters of appointment. The son designated an attorney for the estate. The executor’s brother, a beneficiary under the decedent’s will, believed that the son misused the power of attorney and did not properly account for the proceeds of a loan. The brother filed a motion seeking an accounting of the son’s actions as executor and later a motion to remove the son as executor and appoint another.

After a hearing, the probate court removed the son as executor after determining he had mismanaged the estate’s funds.   The son was represented by his individual counsel during the proceedings. The court determined there were other issues to be decided after the successor executor had an opportunity to review the records and provide an accounting. The replacement executor filed a final report with the court. In the report, he determined the son had removed $35,181.49 from the estate. The court determined the replacement executor’s report and findings was a petition for hearing by the probate court regarding the finds.

Several additional motions were filed and scheduled to be addressed, but no copies of any motions or notice of hearing were sent to the son’s individual attorney. Neither the son nor his attorney attended the hearing that was ultimately held. During the hearing, the court addressed the replacement executor’s conclusion that the son has mishandled the estate funds.

Following this hearing, the probate court entered an order stating that the court would enter a judgment against the son within 30 days, but nothing in the record indicated who received notice of the order. In August, the probate court entered three money judgments against the son of more than $50,000. The son appealed. He asserted the judgments were entered against him without appropriate notice or hearing in violation of his due process rights.

On appeal, the court agreed with the son. The probate court’s involvement in considering a judgment against the son was “state action” that required that he be provided with procedural due process prior to the judgment being entered. 
Procedural due process mandates notice and an opportunity for a hearing.  None of the applications filed prior to the hearing in which the court ordered it would enter judgment against the son had requested a judgment be entered. Nothing was provided to the son to apprise him of the nature of the judgment being considered nor was any hearing set to address the issues. The appellate court concluded that the probate court’s order did not apprise the son of the nature or extent of the contemplated judgment nor did it provide him an opportunity to present evidence or raise objections. Because no notice or hearing was provided prior to the entry of the judgment, the court reversed the judgment and remanded to the probate court for further hearings.

In re Estate of Andrews, No. 2-1050/09-1418, 2013 Iowa App. LEXIS 150(Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 13, 2013)