Klapprott v. United States (336 U.S. 942)/Dissent Frankfurter

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United States Supreme Court

336 U.S. 942


 Argued: Oct. 20, 1948. --- Decided: Jan 17, 1949

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, dissenting.

American citizenship other than when acquired by birth rests on a judicial judgment of naturalization. Tutun v. United States, 270 U.S. 568, 46 S.Ct. 425, 70 L.Ed. 738. Congress has explicitly defined the procedures for annulling such a judgment. Johannessen v. United States, 225 U.S. 227, 32 S.Ct. 613, 56 L.Ed. 1066; Luria v. United States, 231 U.S. 9, 34 S.Ct. 10, 58 L.Ed. 101; § 15 of the Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 596, 601, now formulated in 54 Stat. 1158, 8 U.S.C. § 738, 8 U.S.C.A. § 738. Neither in its terms nor on a fair interpretation of our naturalization laws has Congress indicated that such a judgment-the certificate of naturalization-cannot be annulled by default, that is, without active contest against such annulment, provided that ample opportunity has in fact been afforded to a citizen to contest. This Court is not justified in adding a requirement to the cancellation proceedings that Congress has seen fit to withhold unless some provision of the Constitution so demands. The only possible provision on which an argument can be based that citizenship cannot be canceled by a default judgment is the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. I reject the suggestion that it offends due process for a judgment of naturalization obtained by fraud to be set aside if the defrauding alien is afforded ample opportunity to contest the Government's claim that he obtained his citizenship through fraud and chooses not to avail himself of that opportunity but allows a judgment of cancellation to go by default.

But in rejecting the contention that citizenship cannot be lost by a default judgment, one does not necessarily embrace the other extreme of assimilating a naturalization judgment to any other civil judgment. This Court has held that because a naturalization judgment involves interests of a different order from those involved in other civil proceedings, the annulment of such a judgment is guided by considerations qualitatively different from those hat govern annulment of ordinarry judgments. Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 63 S.Ct. 1333, 87 L.Ed. 1796; Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 64 S.Ct. 1240, 88 L.Ed. 1525. The considerations that set a contested proceeding for cancelling a naturalization judgment apart from other suits to annul a judgment, are equally relevant to a default judgment causing such cancellation. To be sure, the public interest in putting a fair end to litigation and in not allowing people to sleep in their rights has its rightful claim even in proceedings resulting in deprivation of citizenship. But because citizenship has such ramifying significance in the fate of an individual and of those dependent upon him, the public interest to be safeguarded in the administration of justice will not be neglected if courts look more sharply and deal less summarily when asked to set aside a default judgment for cancellation of citizenship than is required of them in setting aside other default judgments.

It is in the light of these general considerations that I would dispose of the present case. I deem it governed by the liberalizing amendment to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure even though that became effective after the decision below. It is of course not a hard and fast rule that procedural changes are to be prospectively applied to a pending litigation at any stage at which it may be possible to do so without working an injustice. But since citizenship is at stake and this is in effect an appeal in equity to be dealt with as of the time of adjudication, it seems more consonant with equitable considerations to judge the case on the basis of the Rule now in force, even though the lower court did not have the opportunity to apply it.

If the petitioner had paid no attention to the proceeding brought to revoke his citizenship, he would, in my opinion, have no ground for opening up the default judgment simply because during all the years in question he was incarcerated. Men can press their claims from behind prison walls, as is proved by the fact that perhaps a third of the cases for which review is sought in this Court come from penitentiaries. But Klapprott was not indifferent to the proceeding to set aside his citizenship. He took active measures of defense which were aborted through no fault of his own. To be sure he did not follow up these efforts, but what he is saying in the motion made after his criminal cases were ended is in substance that he was so preoccupied with defending himself against the dire charges of sedition (the conviction for which this Court set aside in Keegan v. United States, 325 U.S. 478, 65 S.Ct. 1203, 89 L.Ed. 1745) and the threat of deportation, that the New Jersey cancellation proceeding naturally dropped from his mind after he had taken what he thought appropriate steps for his protection. The Government in effect demurred to this contention and the District Court's action, affirmed by the Court of Appeals, practically ruled as a matter of law that the claim of Alapprott, even if true, affords no relief. It is to me significant that one of the two affirming judges of the Court of Appeals decided the case largely on a close reading of the old Rule 60(b) and that the other rested his case on laches, while this Court fails to draw on laches for the support of its conclusion.

Rule 60(b) now provides five grounds for relief from default judgments and a sixth catch-all ground, 'any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment'. [1] The only one of the first five reasons to which Klapprott's conduct, as explicitly narrated, may plausibly be assigned is that of 'excusable neglect,' relief from which must be obtained within a year after a default judgment. But I think that if the inferences fairly to be drawn from the circumstances narrated by Klapprott were found to be true, they would take his case outside of the characterization of 'neglect,' because 'neglect' in the context of its sub ect matter carries the idea of negligence and not merely of non-action, and would constitute a different reason 'justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.' When a claim for citizenship is at stake, we ought to read a complaint with a liberality that is the antithesis of Baron Parke's 'almost superstitious reverence for the dark technicalities of special pleading.' See 15 Dict. Nat. Giog. 226. Therefore, what fairly emanates from such a complaint should be treated as though formally alleged. And so I would not deny Klapprott an opportunity, even at this late stage, to establish as a psychological fact what his allegations imply, namely that the harassing criminal proceedings against him had so preoccupied his mind that he was not guilty of negligence in failing to do more than he initially did in seeking to defend the denaturalization proceeding. But I would not regard such a psychological issue established as a fact merely because the Government in effect demurred to his complaint. Since the nature of the ultimate issue-forfeiture of citizenship-is not to be governed by the ordinary rules of default judgments, neither should the claim of a state of mind be taken as proved simply because the Government, feeling itself justified in resting on a purely legal defense, did not deny the existence of that state of mind.

To rule out the opportunity to establish the psychological implications of the complaint would be to make its denial a rule of law. It would not take much of the trial court's time to allow Klapprott to establish them if he can. The time would be well spent even if he should fail to do so; it would be more consonant with the safeguards which this Court has properly thrown around the withdrawal of citizenship than is the summary disposition that was made. But I would require Klapprott to satisfy the trial judge that what he impliedly alleges is true, and it is here that I part company with the majority.

April 4, 1949.

The motion of the respondent to modify the judgment of this Court in this case is granted. The judgment announced January 17, 1949, is amended to read: 'The judgment of the Court of appeals is reversed and the cause is remanded to the District Court with directions to receive evidence on the truth or falsity of the allegations contained in petitioner's petition to vacate the default judgment entered in the denaturalization proceedings.'

Mr. Justice BLACK, Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, Mr. Justice MURPHY, and Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE dissent from the modification of the order.


^1  Rule 60. Relief From Judgment or Order.

  • * *

'(b) Mistakes; Inadvertence; Excusable Neglect; Newly Discovered Evidence; Fraud, Etc. On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or his legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. The motion shall be made within a reasonable time, and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) not more than one year after the judgment, order, or proceeding was entered or taken. * * *'

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).