SOSNA V. IOWA, 419 U. S. 393 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975)

Sosna v. Iowa

No. 73-762

Argued October 17, 1974

Decided January 14, 1975

419 U.S. 393


Appellant's petition for divorce was dismissed by an Iowa trial court for lack of jurisdiction because she failed to meet the Iowa statutory requirement that a petitioner in a divorce action be a resident of the State for one year preceding the filing of the petition. Appellant then brought a class action under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23 in the Federal District Court against appellees State and state trial judge, asserting that Iowa's durational residency requirement violated the Federal Constitution on equal protection and due process grounds and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. After certifying that appellant represented the class of persons residing in Iowa for less than a year who desired to initiate divorce actions, the three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute.


1. The fact that appellant had long since satisfied the durational residency requirement by the time the case reached this Court does not moot the case, since the controversy remains very much alive for the class of unnamed persons whom she represents and who, upon certification of the class action, acquired a legal status separate from her asserted interest. Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U. S. 330. Pp. 419 U. S. 397-403.

(a) Where, as here, the issue sought to be litigated escapes full appellate review at the behest of any single challenger, the case does not inexorably become moot by the intervening resolution of the controversy as to the named plaintiffs. P. 419 U. S. 401.

(b) At the time the class action was certified, appellant demonstrated a "real and immediate" threat of injury and belonged to the class that she sought to represent. Pp. 419 U. S. 402-403.

(c) The test of Rule 23(a) that the named representative in a class action "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class," is met here, where it is unlikely that segments of the class represented would have interests conflicting with appellant's, and the interests of the class have been competently urged at each level of the proceeding. P. 419 U. S. 403.

Page 419 U. S. 394

2. The Iowa durational residency requirement for divorce is not unconstitutional. Pp. 419 U. S. 404-410.

(a) Such requirement is not unconstitutional on the alleged ground that it establishes two classes of persons and discriminates against those who have recently exercised their right to travel to Iowa. Appellant was not irretrievably foreclosed from obtaining some part of what she sought, and such requirement may reasonably be justified on grounds of the State's interest in requiring those seeking a divorce from its courts to be genuinely attached to the State, as well as of the State's desire to insulate its divorce decrees from the likelihood of successful collateral attack. Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U. S. 618; Dunn, supra; Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U. S. 250, distinguished. Pp. 419 U. S. 406-409.

(b) Nor does the durational residency requirement violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the asserted ground that it denies a litigant the opportunity to make an individualized showing of bona fide residence, and thus bars access to the divorce courts. Even if appellant could make an individualized showing of physical presence plus the intent to remain, she would not be entitled to a divorce, for Iowa requires not merely "domicile" in that sense, but residence in the State for one year. See Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U. S. 441, 412 U. S. 452. Moreover, no total deprivation of access to divorce courts, but only delay in such access, is involved here. Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U. S. 371, distinguished. Pp. 419 U. S. 409-410.

360 F.Supp. 1182, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and DOUGLAS, STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 419 U. S. 410. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 419 U. S. 418.

Page 419 U. S. 395

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