Pennoyer v. Neff

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Pennoyer v. Neff
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October, 1877
Decided May 13, 1878
Full case name Sylvester Pennoyer v. Marcus Neff
Citations 95 U.S. 714 (more)
24 L. Ed. 565; 1877 U.S. LEXIS 2227
Prior history Error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Oregon
No personal jurisdiction can be had over defendants who are physically absent from the state or have not consented to the court's jurisdiction; personal jurisdiction must comport with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Morrison Waite
Associate Justices
Nathan Clifford · Noah H. Swayne
Samuel F. Miller · David Davis
Stephen J. Field · William Strong
Joseph P. Bradley · Ward Hunt
Case opinions
Majority Field, joined by Waite, Clifford, Swayne, Miller, Davis, Strong, Bradley
Dissent Hunt
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. XIV
Overruled by
Shaffer v. Heitner (1977)

Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1878),[1] was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court held that a court can exert personal jurisdiction over a party if that party is served with process while physically present within the state.

Factual and procedural background[edit]


Marcus Neff hired an attorney, John H. Mitchell, to help him with paperwork and other legal matters incidental to his efforts to obtain a land grant under the Donation Law of Oregon, an act of the United States Congress enacted on September 27, 1850 (expired December 1, 1855) which provided an incentive for the development of land in the territories of the American West by conveying parcels of land to be used for further development. Neff was ultimately successful in procuring property on the ancestral homeland of the Multnomah Indian tribe in Multnomah County, Oregon.[citation needed]

The property had an estimated value of $15,000 at the time. Mitchell later sued Neff in the Circuit Court of Multnomah County in the state of Oregon for outstanding debts related to his legal services but because Neff was not to be found there Mitchell won the lawsuit by default judgment which was entered in Mitchell's favor after Neff failed to appear in court.

When Mitchell won the lawsuit in February 1866, Neff's land grant had not yet been conferred and consequently Mitchell, possibly waiting for the arrival of the grant, waited until July 1866 to levy execution on the property. Mitchell arranged for the sheriff to seize the land, purchased it at public auction,[citation needed] and subsequently assigned it to Sylvester Pennoyer causing Neff to sue Pennoyer in 1874[citation needed] in federal court to recover his land. After Neff won, Pennoyer appealed to the United States Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a state court has personal jurisdiction over a non-resident (Neff) when such non-resident was not personally served process while within the state and when the non-resident did not hold property within the state at the time of the original lawsuit. (Neff's property was attached by Mitchell subsequent to the judgment for monetary damages during Mitchell's attempt to execute such judgment.)


The Supreme Court found for Neff and held that for the trial court to have jurisdiction over the property, the property needed to be attached before the start of litigation, whereupon the trial court has quasi in rem jurisdiction.

Constructive notice as opposed to actual notice is insufficient under American law to inform a person living in another state except for cases affecting the personal status of an American plaintiff (like divorce) or cases that are in rem, in which the property sought is within the boundaries of the state and the law presumes that property is always in the possession of the owner, and the owner, therefore, knows what happens to the property. Thus, attachment of the property before judicial proceedings makes constructive notice sufficient.

Subsequent history[edit]

Many aspects of the Court's ruling in this case have subsequently been overturned for cases in which personal or in personam jurisdiction is concerned. In a long series of United States Supreme Court jurisprudence following this ruling, the Court has modified the territorial analysis without overruling its holding. Indeed, it seems the basis of a state's authority to decide the "status" of its citizens, for example, as in a divorce without having personal jurisdiction over the respondent remains undisturbed.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that all determinations of state-court personal jurisdiction must be evaluated in light of and via application of the doctrine of "minimum contacts." The "minimum contacts test" is now used almost exclusively in accordance with these decisions and has also been held to apply to jurisdictional analysis in federal court settings as well as state courts.

The doctrines governing personal jurisdiction in the United States have spawned a great deal of discourse within the Supreme Court of the United States with many cases finetuning and elaborating upon the concept, which has led to the test used today, in which the overall scope of the test for determining whether a court may exert personal jurisdiction over a party has been expanded in certain respects but narrowed in others. Nevertheless, in every case, the Supreme Court has ruled that such analyses must comport with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Place in law schools[edit]

At some law schools, it is read in civil procedure class because of the powerful lesson on the nature of the American federal system and because of the principle of personal jurisdiction. Other law professors place far less emphasis on Pennoyer, preferring to focus on more modern, on point cases.[1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Borchers, Patrick J. The Death of the Constitutional Law of Personal Jurisdiction: From Pennoyer to Burnham and Back Again 24 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 19 (1990)
  • Perdue, Wendy Collins Sin, Scandal, and Substantive Due Process: Personal Jurisdiction and Pennoyer Reconsidered, 62 Wash. Law Rev. 479 (1987)
  • Tocklin, Adrian Pennoyer v. Neff: The Hidden Agenda of Stephen J. Field 28 Seton Hall Law Rev. 75 (1997)
  • Friedenthal, Jack H. Civil Procedure Cases and Materials Ninth Edition (2005) pp 69–73

See also[edit]


External links[edit]