APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.
Brennan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., joined. O'connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Burger, C. J., and Rehnquist, J., joined, post, p. 456.
JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
A Kentucky statute provides that in forcible entry or detainer actions, service of process may be made under certain circumstances by posting a summons on the door of a tenant's apartment. The question presented is whether this statute, as applied to tenants in a public housing project, fails to afford those tenants the notice of proceedings initiated against them required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Appellees Linnie Lindsey, Barbara Hodgens, and Pamela Ray are tenants in a Louisville, Ky., housing project. Appellants are the Sheriff of Jefferson County, Ky., and certain unnamed Deputy Sheriffs charged with responsibility for serving process in forcible entry and detainer actions. In 1975, the Housing Authority of Louisville initiated detainer actions against each of appellees, seeking repossession of their apartments. Service of process was made pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. § 454.030 (1975), which states:
"If the officer directed to serve notice on the defendant in forcible entry or detainer proceedings cannot find the defendant on the premises mentioned in the writ, he may explain and leave a copy of the notice with any member of the defendant's family thereon over sixteen (16) years of age, and if no such person is found he may serve the notice by posting a copy thereof in a conspicuous place on the premises. The notice shall state the time and place of meeting of the court."
In each instance, notice took the form of posting a copy of the writ of forcible entry and detainer on the door of the tenant's apartment.*fn1 Appellees claim never to have seen these posted summonses; they state that they did not learn of the
eviction proceedings until they were served with writs of possession, executed after default judgments had been entered against them, and after their opportunity for appeal had lapsed.
Thus without recourse in the state courts, appellees filed this suit as a class action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. They claimed that the notice procedure employed as a predicate to these eviction proceedings did not satisfy the minimum standards of constitutionally adequate notice described in Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306 (1950), and that the Commonwealth of Kentucky had thus failed to afford them the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Named as defendants were the Housing Authority of Louisville, several public officials charged with responsibility over particular Louisville public housing projects, Joseph Greene, the Jefferson County Sheriff, and certain known and unknown Deputy Sheriffs.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court granted judgment for appellants. In an unreported opinion, the court noted that some 70 years earlier, in Weber v. Grand Lodge of Kentucky, F. & A. M., 169 F. 522 (1909), the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit had held that constructive notice by posting on the door of a building, pursuant to the predecessor statute to § 454.030, provided an adequate constitutional basis upon which to commence an eviction action, on the ground that it was reasonable for the State to presume that a notice posted on the door of the building in dispute would give the tenant actual notice in time to contest the action. Although the District Court recognized that "conditions have changed since the decision in Weber. . . and . . . that there is undisputed testimony in this case that notices posted on the apartment doors of tenants are often removed by other tenants," App. 41-42, the court nevertheless concluded that the procedures employed did not deny due
process in light of the fact "that posting only comes into play after the officer directed to serve notice cannot find the defendant on the premises," id., at 42.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of appellants and remanded the case for further proceedings. 649 F.2d 425 (1981). Acknowledging that its decision in Weber directed a contrary result, the Court of Appeals examined the doctrinal basis of that decision, and concluded that it rested in part on distinctions between actions in rem and actions in personam that had been drawn in cases such as Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1878); Huling v. Kaw Valley Railway & Improvement Co., 130 U.S. 559 (1889); Arndt v. Griggs, 134 U.S. 316 (1890); Ballard v. Hunter, 204 U.S. 241 (1907); and Longyear v. Toolan, 209 U.S. 414 (1908), and that had been substantially undercut by intervening decisions of this Court. In overruling Weber, the Court of Appeals cited International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945), Mullane, supra, and Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977), as cases calling for a more realistic appraisal of the adequacy of process provided by the State. Turning to the circumstances of this case and the procedures contemplated by § 454.030, the Court of Appeals noted that while there may have been "a time when posting provided a surer means of giving notice than did mailing, [that] time has passed. The uncontradicted testimony by process servers themselves that posted summonses are not infrequently removed by persons other than those served constitutes effective confirmation of the conclusion that notice by posting 'is not reasonably calculated to reach those who could easily be informed by other means at hand,'" 649 F.2d, at 428, quoting Mullane, supra, at 319.*fn2 The court held, therefore, that the notice provided
pursuant to § 454.030 was constitutionally deficient. We noted probable jurisdiction, 454 U.S. 938 (1981), and now affirm.