May a state court exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident who was not personally served with process?
No, a state court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident who is constructively served with process. Due process principles under the Fourteenth Amendment require personal service of process.
LexisNexis Headnote 3: In Rem & Personal Jurisdiction, Constitutional Limits Since the adoption of U.S. Const. amend. XIV, the validity of judgments against persons who have not been personally summoned or had notice of the proceeding may be directly questioned, and their enforcement in the State resisted, on the ground that proceedings in a court of justice to determine the personal rights and obligations of parties over whom that court has no jurisdiction do not constitute due process of law.
Although plaintiff was not a resident of Oregon, he owned about $15,000 worth of real estate there pursuant to a congressional patent. Plaintiff failed to pay his attorney, who filed suit in an Oregon state court to collect. The attorney did not have plaintiff personally served with notice of the lawsuit, and instead he had him constructively served by publishing notice of the lawsuit in a local newspaper. After the attorney obtained a default judgment against plaintiff for about $300, he executed recovery through a sheriff’s sale of plaintiff’s real estate. Defendant purchased the property through the sheriff’s sale.
Plaintiff filed an action against defendant in Oregon federal court, seeking recovery of the tract of land. The federal court looked to the validity of the judgment in the underlying suit between plaintiff and the attorney. The court ruled in favor of plaintiff, finding that the underlying judgment was invalid because the attorney had submitted an erroneous affidavit in connection with his motion seeking an order of publication. Defendant filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A personal judgment rendered in a state court, in an action upon a money demand against a non-resident of the state, without personal service of process upon him within the state or his appearance in the action upon service by publication is invalid. Although the Supreme Court used different reasoning than the lower court, it affirmed the judgment in plaintiff’s favor on the ground that the lack of personal service invalidated the sale of the property to defendant.