Pennoyer v. Neff Case Brief

Summary of Pennoyer v. Neff
95 U.S. 714 [1877]

Power, Consent, and Notice – Personal jurisdiction

Relevant Facts: The consolidation of two actions. One in the OR state cts, the other Federal. In the first Mitchell and atty is suing his client, Neff, for unpaid legal fees $300. At the time Neff was a “non-resident who was not personally served with process, and did not appear." Default was entered after constructive notice by publication. Neff had acquired 300 acres of land and Michell had the sheriff seize and sell the land. Pennoyer bought the land and Neff brought the second action forward to recover possession of the land.

Legal Issue(s): Whether judgment for money rendered in the State court of Oregon against Neff, then a non-resident of the State, without service of process, or his appearance was without any validity, and the authorization of a sale of the property was without due process of law?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: By consent of parties, and in pursuance of their written stipulation filed in the case, the cause was tried by the court, and a special verdict given, upon which judgment was rendered in favor of Neff; whereupon Pennoyer sued out this writ of error . Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): To give such proceedings validity, there must be a competent tribunal to pass on the subject-matter of the suit; and in order to make a determination of the personal liability of defendant, he must be brought within its jurisdiction by service of process within the state, or by his voluntary appearance.

Court Rationale: The property here in controversy sold under the judgment rendered was not attached, nor in any way brought under the jurisdiction of the court . Its first connection with the case was caused by a levy of the execution. It was not disposed of pursuant to any adjudication, but out of a money judgment, having no relation to the property, rendered against a non resident w/o service of process or his appearance. Publication of process or notice w/ the state where the tribunal sits cannot create any greater obligation upon the non resident to appear: Process sent to him out of the State, and process published w/i it are equally unavailing. To acquire jurisdiction by attachment Oregon would have had to attach the property before the lawsuit. Substituted service of process in actions against non residents is effectual only where the property in the state is brought under the control of the court and subjected to its disposition by process.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Due process requires either the appearance of df or service of process before a judgment can be executed against him.

Defendant’s Argument: OR state law provides for constructive service of process when an action is brought against a non resident and absent df, who has property in the state.

Constructive Notice – (fictional or pretend) an alternative method of fulfilling the legal requirement of service of process, mail, publication, etc.

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