Civil Procedure I, Pages 70–75

Pennoyer v. Neff

Supreme Court of the United States, 1877

Facts:

Pennoyer bought some of Neff's land in Oregon from an attachment won by Mitchell, to whom Neff owed money. Neff did not live in Oregon however, and the land was attached by the sheriff to settle Neff's debt to Mitchell. The judgment for the debt was after constructive notice when Neff predictably did not appear. The land was not known of at the time of the judgment.

Procedural History:

Neff won at trial and throughout all appeals.

Issue:

Can land of a state be attached by that state's government to fulfill a prior judgment against the owner who lives in another state?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Land was illegitimately seized as the court did not have jurisdiction over him as a non-resident. Therefore, the land should return to plaintiff. Due process was violated, so the judgment is void.

Defendant's Argument:

Defendant has a sheriff's deed for the land. It should not matter whether the land was attached at the beginning or end of Mitchell's lawsuit against Neff.

Rules:

  • Judgments cannot attach property outside that court's jurisdiction.

  • Judgments against absent and non-resident parties summoned by mere constructive notice are void.

  • A void judgment cannot be validated by subsequent discovery or acquisition of property by the person whom the judgment is against.

Reasoning:

As Neff was only constructively summoned while he was living in a different state, the judgment is not valid and the court could not take his property, even if it was later discovered to be owned in the court's jurisdiction.

Holding:

No, such an action would violate states' independence and a person's Constitutional rights. Judgment affirmed.


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