Pennoyer v. Neff


In 1866, Mitchell (Neff’s attorney) sued Neff, a non-resident, in OR state court to recover unpaid legal fees.  Mitchell sued Neff for land that had not yet been seized by the court.  Mitchell published notice of the commencement of the action in an OR newspaper, in accordance with state statute about giving notice to out of state defendants. Neff was not personally served. Neff did not appear and Mitchell obtained a default judgment against him.  Land was sold to Pennoyer at auction and proceeds awarded to Mitchell.  Neff sued Pennoyer to recover the land.

Procedural HistorY

Neff sued Pennoyer in federal district court in Oregon to recover possession of the property, claiming that the original judgment against him was invalid for lack of personal jurisdiction over both him and the land. The court found that the judgment in the lawsuit between Mitchell and Pennoyer was invalid and that Neff still owned the land. Pennoyer lost on appeal and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Can the state exercise personal jurisdiction on a non-resident who has not been personally served and whose land was not attached prior to the law suit?


Judgment for Neff affirmed.  A court cannot enter a judgment against a non-resident unless that person is personally served while within the state or that person has attached land at the time of suit.


“If, without personal service, judgments in personam, obtained ex parte against non-residents and absent parties, upon mere publication of process, which, in the great majority of cases, would never be seen by the parties interested, could be upheld and enforced, they would be the constant instruments of fraud and oppression.”  In this case the property was moved against to satisfy a personal judgment against a non-resident.  Pre-trial seizure of the land would have satisfied notification of a property judgment (in rem), because it is assumed that property is attached to the person.  However, to satisfy a personal judgment (which was case between Mitchell and Neff), seizure is not a sufficient method of notification, nor is public notification.   Neff was not personally notified nor was his land attached at the time of adjudication.  Judgments in rem for non-residents must be given due process, which involves a personal appearance by the Defendant or personal service of notification or attachment of land.

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