Supreme Court of the United States
January 21, 1878, Decided; OCTOBER, 1877 Term
No Number in Original
95 U.S. 714 *; 24 L. Ed. 565 **; 1877 U.S. LEXIS 2227 ***; 5 Otto 714
PENNOYER v. NEFF.
Prior History: [***1] ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Oregon.
This action was brought by Neff against Pennoyer for the recovery of a tract of land situated in Multnomah County, Oregon. Pennoyer, in his answer, denied Neff's title and right to possession, and set up a title in himself.
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.
The parties respectively claimed title as follows: Neff, under a patent issued to him by the United States, March 19, 1866; and Pennoyer, by virtue of a sale made by the sheriff of said county, under an execution sued out upon a judgment against Neff, rendered Feb. 19, 1866, by the Circuit Court for said county, in an action wherein he was defendant, and J. H. Mitchell was plaintiff. Neff was then a non-resident of Oregon.
In Mitchell v. Neff, jurisdiction of Neff was obtained by service of summons by publication. Pennoyer offered in evidence duly certified copies of the complaint, summons, order for publication of summons, [***2] affidavit of service by publication, and the judgment in that case; to the introduction of which papers the plaintiff objected, because, 1, said judgment is in personam, and appears to have been given without the appearance of the defendant in the action, or personal service of the summons upon him, and while he was a non-resident of the State, and is, therefore, void; 2, said judgment is not in rem, and, therefore, constitutes no basis of title in the defendant; 3, said copies of complaint, &c., do not show jurisdiction to give the judgment alleged, either in rem or personam; and, 4, it appears from said papers that no proof of service by publication was ever made, the affidavit thereof being made by the "editor" of the "Pacific Christian Advocate," and not by "the printer, or his foreman or principal clerk." The court admitted the evidence subject to the objections.
The finding of the court in regard to the facts bearing upon the asserted jurisdiction of the State court is as follows: --
That on Nov. 13, 1865, Mitchell applied to said Circuit Court, upon his own affidavit of that date, for an order allowing the service of the summons in said action to be made [***3] upon Neff, by publication thereof; whereupon said court made said order, in the words following: "Now, at this day, comes the plaintiff in his proper person, and by his attorneys, Mitchell and Dolph, and files affidavit of plaintiff, and motion for an order of publication of summons, as follows, to wit: 'Now comes the plaintiff, by his attorneys, and upon the affidavit of plaintiff, herewith filed, moves the court for an order of publication of summons against defendant, as required by law, he being a non-resident;, and it appearing to the satisfaction of the court that the defendant cannot, after due diligence, be found in this State, and that he is a non-resident thereof, that his place of residence is unknown to plaintiff, and cannot, with reasonable diligence, be ascertained by him, and that the plaintiff has a cause of action against defendant, and that defendant has property in this county and State, it is ordered and adjudged by the court that service of the summons in this action be made by publication for six weeks successively in the 'Pacific Christian Advocate,' a weekly newspaper published in Multnomah County, Oregon, and this action is continued for such service." That [***4] the affidavit of plaintiff, referred to in said order, is in the words following: "I, J. Mitchell, being first duly sworn, say that the defendant, Marcus Neff, is a nonresident of this State; that he resides somewhere in the State of California, at what place affiant knows not, and he cannot be found in this State; that plaintiff has a just cause of action against defendant for a money-demand on account; that this court has jurisdiction of such action; that the defendant has property in this county and State." That the complaint in said action was verified and filed on Nov. 3, 1865, and contained facts tending to prove that at that date said Mitchell had a cause of action against said Neff for services as an attorney, performed "between Jan. 1, 1862, and May 15, 1863." That the entry of judgment in said action contained the following averments: "And it appearing to the court that the defendant was, at the time of the commencement of this action, and ever since has been, a non-resident of this State; and it further appearing that he has property in this State, and that defendant had notice of the pendency of this action by publication of the summons for six successive weeks in the 'Pacific [***5] Christian Advocate,' a weekly newspaper of general circulation published in Multnomah County, State of Oregon, the last issue of which was more than twenty days before the first day of this term." That the affidavit showing the publication of the summons in the "Advocate" aforesaid was made as stated therein by the "editor" of that paper. That said complaint, summons, affidavit of Mitchell and of the "editor" of the "Advocate" aforesaid, and entry of judgment, were in the judgment roll, made up by the clerk in the case, but the order for publication of the summons aforesaid was not placed in said roll by said clerk, but remains on the files of said court; and that when said court made said order for publication, and gave said judgment against Neff, the only evidence it had before it to prove the facts necessary to give it jurisdiction therefor, and particularly to authorize it to find and state that Neff's residence was unknown to Mitchell, and could not, with reasonable diligence, be ascertained by him, and that Neff had notice of the pendency of said action by the publication of the summons as aforesaid, was, so far as appears by the said roll and the records and files of the said [***6] court, the said complaint and affidavits of Mitchell and the editor of the "Advocate."
The statute of Oregon at the time of the commencement of the suit against Neff was as follows: --
"SECT. 55. When service of the summons cannot be made as prescribed in the last preceding section, and the defendant, after due diligence, cannot be found within the State, and when that fact appears, by affidavit, to the satisfaction of the court or judge thereof, or justice in an action in a justice's court, and it also appears that a cause of action exists against the defendant, or that he is a proper party to an action relating to real property in this State, such court or judge or justice may grant an order that the service be made by publication of summons in either of the following cases: . . .
"3. When the defendant is not a resident of the State, but has property therein, and the court has jurisdiction of the subject of the action.
"SECT. 56. The order shall direct the publication to be made in a newspaper published in the county where the action is commenced, and, if no newspaper be published in the county, then in a newspaper to be designated as most likely to give notice to the [***7] person to be served, and for such length of time as may be deemed reasonable, not less than once a week for six weeks. In case of publication, the court or judge shall also direct a copy of the summons and complaint to be forthwith deposited in the post-office, directed to the defendant, at his place of residence, unless it shall appear that such residence is neither known to the party making the application, nor can, with reasonable diligence, be ascertained by him. When publication is ordered, personal service of a copy of the summons and complaint out of the State shall be equivalent to publication and deposit in the post-office. In either case, the defendant shall appear and answer by the first day of the term following the expiration of the time prescribed in the order for publication; and, if he does not, judgment may be taken against him for want thereof. In case of personal service out of the State, the summons shall specify the time prescribed in the order for publication.
"SECT. 57. The defendant against whom publication is ordered, or his personal representatives, on application and sufficient cause shown, at any time before judgment, shall be allowed to defend the [***8] action; and the defendant against whom publication is ordered, or his representatives, may in like manner, upon good cause shown, and upon such terms as may be proper, be allowed to defend after judgment, and within one year after the entry of such judgment, on such terms as may be just; and, if the defence be successful, and the judgment or any part thereof have been collected or otherwise enforced, such restitution may thereupon be compelled as the court shall direct. But the title to property sold upon execution issued on such judgment to a purchaser in good faith shall not be thereby affected."
"SECT. 60. Proof of the service of summons shall be, in case of publication, the affidavit of the printer, or his foreman, or his principal clerk, showing the same."
Disposition: The lower court's decision was affirmed. The court held that the judgment from the underlying action was invalid due to the fact that plaintiff was a non-resident of the state in which the action was brought and was not personally served.
Defendant sought review of a decision from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Oregon, which held that a judgment granting ownership of certain property to defendant was invalid.
This was an action to recover possession of a tract of land to which both plaintiff and defendant asserted title. Defendant claimed to have acquired the premises under a sheriff's deed made upon a sale of the property resulting from a judgment recovered against plaintiff in one of the circuit courts of the state. The case turned upon the validity of that judgment. The lower court found that the judgment was invalid due to problems with an affidavit. On appeal, the court ruled that the judgment was invalid, on different reasoning. Because at the time the action was commenced and the judgment was rendered plaintiff was a non-resident of the state, was not personally served with process, and did not appear, the judgment could not be valid against plaintiff. Because of the lack of personal service, the sale of the property in controversy was not authorized. Accordingly, the decision below was affirmed.
The lower court's decision was affirmed. The court held that the judgment from the underlying action was invalid due to the fact that plaintiff was a non-resident of the state in which the action was brought and was not personally served.
The authority of every tribunal is necessarily restricted by the territorial limits of the State in which it is established. Any attempt to exercise authority beyond those limits would be deemed in every other forum, as has been said by this court, an illegitimate assumption of power, and be resisted as mere abuse.
The State through its tribunals, may subject property situated within its limits owned by non-residents to the payment of the demand of its own citizens against them; and the exercise of this jurisdiction in no respect infringes upon the sovereignty of the State where the owners are domiciled.