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U.S. Supreme Court

Tulsa Prof. Collection Svcs. v. Pope, 485 U.S. 478 (1988)

Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc. v. Pope

No. 86-1961

Argued March 2, 1988

Decided April 19, 1988

485 U.S. 478


Under the nonclaim provision of Oklahoma's Probate Code, creditors' claims against an estate are generally barred unless they are presented to the executor or executrix within two months of the publication of notice of the commencement of probate proceedings. Appellee executrix published the required notice in compliance with the terms of the nonclaim statute and a probate court order, but appellant, the assignee of a hospital's claim for expenses connected with the decedent's final illness, failed to file a timely claim. For this reason, the probate court denied appellant's application for payment, and both the State Court of Appeals and Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting appellant's contention that, in failing to require more than publication notice, the nonclaim statute violated due process. That contention was based upon Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U. S. 306, which held that state action that adversely affects property interests must be accompanied by such notice as is reasonable under the particular circumstances, balancing the State's interest and the due process interests of individuals, and Mennonite Board of Missions v. Adams, 462 U. S. 791, which generally requires actual notice to an affected party whose name and address are "reasonably ascertainable."

Held: If appellant's identity as a creditor was known or "reasonably ascertainable" by appellee (a fact which cannot be determined from the present record), the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted by Mullane and Mennonite, requires that appellant be given notice by mail or such other means as is certain to ensure actual notice. Appellant's claim is properly considered a property interest protected by the Clause. Moreover, the nonclaim statute is not simply a self-executing statute of limitations. Texaco, Inc. v. Short, 454 U. S. 516, distinguished. Rather, the probate court's intimate involvement throughout the probate proceedings -- particularly the court's activation of the statute's time bar by the appointment of an executor or executrix -- is so pervasive and substantial that it must be considered state action. Nor can there be any doubt that the statute may "adversely affect" protected property interests, since untimely claims such as appellant's are completely extinguished. On balance, satisfying creditors' chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 485 U. S. 479

substantial, practical need for actual notice in the probate setting is not so cumbersome or impracticable as to unduly burden the State's undeniably legitimate interest in the expeditious resolution of the proceedings, since mail service (which is already routinely provided at several points in the probate process) is inexpensive, efficient, and reasonably calculated to provide actual notice, and since publication notice will suffice for creditors whose identities are not ascertainable by reasonably diligent efforts or whose claims are merely conjectural. Pp. 485 U. S. 484-491.

733 P.2d 396, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result. REHNQUIST, C.J.,filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 485 U. S. 492.

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