Conditioning of Relief From Unenforceable Judgment Upon Showing of Meritorious Defense to Claim Upon Which It Was Entered Can Deny Due Process of Law–Armstrong v. Manzo

When petitioner and his wife were divorced in 1959 she received custody of their minor daughter, and he was ordered to contribute fifty dollars per month toward the child’s support. The wife remarried and, two years after the divorce, joined in proceedings initiated by her new husband in a Texas court to adopt the child. The adoption petition alleged that, during the two-year period, petitioner had failed to support the child in a manner commensurate with his ability. Under Texas law, proof of such a charge against a natural father makes his consent to the adoption of his child unnecessary. Petitioner, however, knew nothing of the proceedings until immediately after a final decree of adoption had been entered, whereupon he moved to vacate the judgment. His motion was denied because of his failure to demonstrate that he had supported his daughter to the extent required to preserve the right to withhold consent to her adoption. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, holding that any defect in the adoption proceeding caused by petitioner’s lack of knowledge was cured when his motion to vacate came on for hearing and he was then afforded the opportunity to show that he had supported the child and that, therefore, his consent to adoption was in fact necessary. On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, held, reversed. If one is not bound by a judgment because he had no knowledge of the proceeding in which it was rendered, he is denied due process of law if his right to reopen that decree is conditioned upon his carrying a burden of proof greater than that which would have been imposed on him in the original proceeding.