|Pennoyer v. Neff
100 U.S. 1
[ Field ]
[ Hunt ]
Pennoyer v. Neff
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON
MR. JUSTICE HUNT dissenting.
I am compelled to dissent from the opinion and judgment of the court, and, deeming the question involved to be important, I take leave to record my views upon it.
The judgment of the court below was placed upon the ground that the provisions of the statute were not complied with. This is of comparatively little importance, as it affects the present case only. The judgment of this Court is based upon the theory that the legislature had no power to pass the law in question; that the principle of the statute is vicious, and every proceeding under it void. It, therefore, affects all like cases, past and future, and in every State.
The precise case is this: a statute of Oregon authorizes suits to be commenced by the service of a summons. In the case of a nonresident of the State, it authorizes the service of the summons to be made by publication for not less than six weeks, in a newspaper published in the county where the action is commenced. A copy of the summons must also be sent by mail, directed to the defendant at his place of residence, unless it be shown that the residence is not known and cannot be ascertained. It authorizes a judgment and execution to be obtained in such proceeding. Judgment in a suit commenced by one Mitchell in the Circuit Court of Multnomah County, where the summons was thus served, was obtained against Neff, the present plaintiff, and the land in question, situate in Multnomah County, was bought by the defendant Pennoyer at a sale upon the judgment in such suit. This court now holds that, by reason of the absence of a personal service of [p737] the summons on the defendant, the Circuit Court of Oregon had no jurisdiction, its judgment could not authorize the sale of land in said county, and, as a necessary result, a purchaser of land under it obtained no title; that, as to the former owner, it is a case of depriving a person of his property without due process of law.
In my opinion, this decision is at variance with the long established practice under the statutes of the States of this Union, is unsound in principle, and, I fear, may be disastrous in its effects. It tends to produce confusion in titles which have been obtained under similar statutes in existence for nearly a century; it invites litigation and strife, and overthrows a well settled rule of property.
The result of the authorities on the subject, and the sound conclusions to be drawn from the principles which should govern the decision, as I shall endeavor to show, are these:--
1. A sovereign State must necessarily have such control over the real and personal property actually being within its limits, as that it may subject the same to the payment of debts justly due to its citizens.
2. This result is not altered by the circumstance that the owner of the property is nonresident, and so absent from the State that legal process cannot be served upon him personally.
3. Personal notice of a proceeding by which title to property is passed is not indispensable; it is competent to the State to authorize substituted service by publication or otherwise, as the commencement of a suit against nonresidents, the judgment in which will authorize the sale of property in such State.
4. It belongs to the legislative power of the State to determine what shall be the modes and means proper to be adopted to give notice to an absent defendant of the commencement of a suit; and if they are such as are reasonably likely to communicate to him information of the proceeding against him, and are in good faith designed to give him such information, and an opportunity to defend is provided for him in the event of his appearance in the suit, it is not competent to the judiciary to declare that such proceeding is void as not being by due process of law.
5. Whether the property of such nonresident shall be seized [p738] upon attachment as the commencement of a suit which shall be carried into judgment and execution, upon which it shall then be sold, or whether it shall be sold upon an execution and judgment without such preliminary seizure, is a matter not of constitutional power, but of municipal regulation only.
To say that a sovereign State has the power to ordain that the property of nonresidents within its territory may be subjected to the payment of debts due to its citizens, if the property is levied upon at the commencement of a suit, but that it has not such power if the property is levied upon at the end of the suit, is a refinement and a depreciation of a great general principle that, in my judgment, cannot be sustained.
A reference to the statutes of the different States, and to the statutes of the United States, and to the decided cases, and a consideration of the principles on which they stand, will more clearly exhibit my view of the question.
The statutes are of two classes: first, those which authorize the commencement of actions by publication, accompanied by an attachment which is levied upon property, more or less, of an absent debtor; second, those giving the like mode of commencing a suit without an attachment.
The statute of Oregon relating to publication of summons, supra, p. 718, under which the question arises, is nearly a transcript of a series of provisions contained in the New York statute, adopted thirty years since. The latter authorizes the commencement of a suit against a nonresident by the publication of an order for his appearance, for a time not less than six weeks, in such newspapers as shall be most likely to give notice to him, and the deposit of a copy of the summons and complaint in the post office, directed to him at his residence, if it can be ascertained; and provides for the allowance to defend the action before judgment, and within seven years after its rendition, upon good cause shown, and that, if the defence be successful, restitution shall be ordered. It then declares: "But the title to property sold under such judgment to a purchaser in good faith shall not be thereby affected." Code, sects. 34, 35; 5 Edm.Rev.Stat. of N.Y., pp. 37-39.
Provisions similar in their effect, in authorizing the commencement of suits by attachment against absent debtors, in [p739] which all of the property of the absent debtor, real and personal, not merely that seized upon the attachment, is placed under the control of trustees, who sell it for the benefit of all the creditors, and make just distribution thereof, conveying absolute title to the property sold have been upon the statute book of New York for more than sixty years. 2 id., p. 2 and following; 1 Rev.Laws, 1813, p. 157.
The statute of New York, before the Code, respecting proceedings in chancery where absent debtors are parties, had long been in use in that State, and was adopted in all cases of chancery jurisdiction. Whenever a defendant resided out of the State, his appearance might be compelled by publication in the manner pointed out. A decree might pass against him, and performance be compelled by sequestration of his real or personal property, or by causing possession of specific property to be delivered, where that relief is sought. T he relief was not confined to cases of mortgage foreclosure, or where there was a specific claim upon the property, but included cases requiring the payment of money as well. 2 Edm.Rev.Stat. N.Y., pp. 193-195; 186, m.
I doubt not that many valuable titles are now held by virtue of the provisions of these statutes.
The statute of California authorizes the service of a summons on a nonresident defendant by publication, permitting him to come in and defend upon the merits within one year after the entry of judgment. Code, sects. 10,412, 10,473. In its general character, it is like the statutes of Oregon and New York already referred to.
The Code of Iowa, sect. 2618, that of Nevada, sect. 1093, and that of Wisconsin, are to the same general effect. The Revised Statutes of Ohio, sects. 70, 75, 2 Swan & Critchfield, provide for a similar publication, and that the defendant may come in to defend within five years after the entry of the judgment, but that the title to property held by any purchaser in good faith under the judgment shall not be affected thereby.
The attachment laws of New Jersey, Nixon Dig. (4th ed.), p. 55, are like those of New York already quoted, by which title may be transferred to all the property of a nonresident debtor. And the provisions of the Pennsylvania statute regulating [p740] proceedings in equity, Brightly's Purden's Dig., p. 5988, sects. 51, 52, give the same authority in substance, and the same result is produced as under the New York statute.
Without going into a wearisome detail of the statutes of the various States, it is safe to say that nearly every State in the Union provides a process by which the lands and other property of a nonresident debtor may be subjected to the payment of his debts, through a judgment or decree against the owner, obtained upon a substituted service of the summons or writ commencing the action.
The principle of substituted service is also a rule of property under the statutes of the United States.
The act of Congress "to amend the law of the District of Columbia in relation to judicial proceedings therein," approved Feb. 23, 1867, 14 Stat. 403, contains the same general provisions. It enacts (sect. 7) that publication may be substituted for personal service when the defendant cannot be found in suits for partition, divorce, by attachment, for the foreclosure of mortgages and deeds of trust, and for the enforcement of mechanics' liens and all other liens against real or personal property, and in all actions at law or in equity having for their immediate object the enforcement or establishment of any lawful right, claim, or demand to or against any real or personal property within the jurisdiction of the court.
A following section points out the mode of proceeding, and closes in these words:
The decree, besides subjecting the thing upon which the lien has attached to the satisfaction of the plaintiff's demand against the defendant, shall adjudge that the plaintiff recover his demand against the defendant, and that he may have execution thereof as at law.
A formal judgment against the debtor is thus authorized by means of which any other property of the defendant within the jurisdiction of the court, in addition to that which is the subject of the lien, may be sold, and the title transferred to the purchaser.
All these statutes are now adjudged to be unconstitutional and void. The titles obtained under them are not of the value [p741] of the paper on which they are recorded, except where a preliminary attachment was issued.
Some of the statutes and several of the authorities I cite go further than the present case requires. In this case, property lying in the State where the suit was brought, owned by the nonresident debtor, was sold upon the judgment against him, and it is on the title to that property that the controversy turns.
The question whether, in a suit commenced like the present one, a judgment can be obtained which, if sued upon in another State, will be conclusive against the debtor, is not before us; nor does the question arise as to the faith and credit to be given in one State to a judgment recovered in another. The learning on that subject is not applicable. The point is simply whether land lying in the same State may be subjected to process at the end of a suit thus commenced.
It is here necessary only to maintain the principle laid down by Judge Cooley in his work on Constitutional Limitations, p. 404, and cited by Mr. Justice Field in Galpin v. Page, 3 Sawyer 93, in these words:
The fact that process was not personally served is a conclusive objection to the judgment as a personal claim, unless the defendant caused his appearance to be entered in the attachment proceedings. Where a party has property in a State, and resides elsewhere, his property is justly subject to all valid claims that may exist against him there; but, beyond this, due process of law would require appearance or personal service before the defendant could be personally bound by any judgment rendered.
The learned author does not make it a condition that there should be a preliminary seizure of the property by attachment; he lays down the rule that all a person's property in a State may be subjected to all valid claims there existing against him.
The objection now made that suits commenced by substituted service, as by publication, and judgments obtained without actual notice to the debtor, are in violation of that constitutional provision that no man shall be deprived of his property "without due process of law," has often been presented.
In Matter of the Empire City Bank, 18 N.Y. 199, which [p742] was a statutory proceeding to establish and to enforce the responsibility of the stockholders of a banking corporation, and the proceedings in which resulted in a personal judgment against the stockholders for the amount found due, the eminent and learned Judge Denio, speaking as the organ of the Court of Appeals, says:
The notice of hearing is to be personal, or by service at the residence of the parties who live in the county, or by advertisement as to others. It may therefore happen that some of the persons who are made liable will not have received actual notice, and the question is whether personal service of process or actual notice to the party is essential to constitute due process of law. We have not been referred to any adjudication holding that no man's right of property can be affected by judicial proceedings unless he have personal notice. It may be admitted that a statute which should authorize any debt or damages to be adjudged against a person upon a purely ex parte proceeding, without a pretence of notice or any provision for defending, would be a violation of the Constitution, and be void; but where the legislature has prescribed a kind of notice by which it is reasonably probable that the party proceeded against will be apprised of what is going on against him, and an opportunity is afforded him to defend, I am of the opinion that the courts have not the power to pronounce the proceeding illegal. The legislature has uniformly acted upon that understanding of the Constitution.
Numerous provisions of the statutes of the State are commented upon, after which he proceeds:
Various prudential regulations are made with respect to these remedies; but it may possibly happen, notwithstanding all these precautions, that a citizen who owes nothing, and has done none of the acts mentioned in the statute, may be deprived of his estate without any actual knowledge of the process by which it has been taken from him. If we hold, as we must in order to sustain this legislation, that the Constitution does not positively require personal notice in order to constitute a legal proceeding due process of law, it then belongs to the legislature to determine whether the case calls for this kind of exceptional legislation, and what manner of constructive notice shall be sufficient to reasonably apprise the party proceeded against of the legal steps which are taken against him. [p743]
In Happy v. Mosher, 48 id. 313, the court say:
An approved definition of due process of law is "law in its regular administration through courts of justice." 2 Kent Com. 13. It need not be a legal proceeding according to the course of the common law, neither must there be personal notice to the party whose property is in question. It is sufficient if a kind of notice is provided by which it is reasonably probable that the party proceeded against will be apprised of what is going on against him, and an opportunity afforded him to defend.
The same language is used in Westervelt v. Gregg, 12 id. 202, and in Campbell v. Evans, 45 id. 356. Campbell v. Evans and The Empire City Bank are cases not of proceedings against property to enforce a lien or claim, but, in each of them, a personal judgment in damages was rendered against the party complaining.
It is undoubtedly true, that, in many cases where the question respecting due process of law has arisen, the case in hand was that of a proceeding in rem. It is true also, as is asserted, that the process of a State cannot be supposed to run beyond its own territory. It is equally true, however, that, in every instance where the question has been presented, the validity of substituted service, which is used to subject property within the State belonging to a nonresident to a judgment obtained by means thereof has been sustained. I have found no case in which it is adjudged that a statute must require a preliminary seizure of such property as necessary to the validity of the proceeding against it, or that there must have been a previous specific lien upon it; that is, I have found no case where such has been the judgment of the court upon facts making necessary the decision of the point. On the contrary, in the case of the attachment laws of New York and of New Jersey, which distribute all of the nonresident's property, not merely that levied on by the attachment, and in several of the reported cases already referred to, where the judgment was sustained, neither of these preliminary facts existed.
The case of Galpin v. Page, reported in 18 Wall. 350 and again in 3 Sawyer 93, is cited in hostility to the views I have expressed. There may be general expressions which will justify [p744] this suggestion, but the judgment is in harmony with those principles. In the case as reported in this Court, it was held that the title of the purchaser under a decree against a nonresident infant was invalid, for two reasons: 1st, that there was no jurisdiction of the proceeding under the statute of California, on account of the entire absence of an affidavit of nonresidence, and of diligent inquiry for the residence of the debtor; 2d, the absence of any order for publication in Eaton's case -- both of which are conditions precedent to the jurisdiction of the court to take any action on the subject. The title was held void, also, for the reason that the decree under which it was obtained had been reversed in the State court, and the title was not taken at the sale, nor held then by a purchaser in good faith, the purchase being made by one of the attorneys in the suit, and the title being transferred to his law partner after the reversal of the decree. The court held that there was a failure of jurisdiction in the court under which the plaintiff claimed title, and that he could not recover. The learned justice who delivered the opinion in the Circuit Court and in this Court expressly affirms the authority of a State over persons not only, but property as well, within its limits, and this by means of a substituted service. The judgment so obtained, he insists, can properly be used as a means of reaching property within the State, which is thus brought under the control of the court and subjected to its judgment. This is the precise point in controversy in the present action.
The case of Cooper v. Reynolds, 10 Wall. 308, is cited for the same purpose. There, the judgment of the court below, refusing to give effect to a judgment obtained upon an order of publication against a nonresident, was reversed in this Court. The suit was commenced, or immediately accompanied (it is not clear which), by an attachment which was levied upon the real estate sold, and for the recovery of which this action was brought. This Court sustained the title founded upon the suit commenced against the nonresident by attachment. In the opinion delivered in that case, there may be remarks, by way of argument or illustration, tending to show that a judgment obtained in a suit not commenced by the levy of an attachment will not give title to land purchased under it. They are, [p745] however, extrajudicial, the decision itself sustaining the judgment obtained under the State statute by publication.
Webster v. Reid, 11 How. 437, is also cited. There, the action involved the title to certain lands in the State of Iowa, being lands formerly belonging to the half-breeds of the Sac and Fox tribes; and title was claimed against the Indian right under the statutes of June 2, 1838, and January, 1839. By these statutes, commissioners were appointed who were authorized to hear claims for accounts against the Indians, and commence actions for the same, giving a notice thereof of eight weeks in the Iowa "Territorial Gazette," and to enter up judgments which should be a lien on the lands. It was provided that it should not be necessary to name the defendants in the suits, but the words "owners of the half-breed lands lying in Lee County" should be a sufficient designation of the defendants in such suits; and it provided that the trials should be by the court, and not by a jury. It will be observed that the lands were not only within the limits of the territory of Iowa, but that all the Indians who were made defendants under the name mentioned were also residents of Iowa, and, for aught that appears to the contrary, of the very county of Lee in which the proceeding was taken. Nonresidence was not a fact in the case. Moreover, they were Indians, and, presumptively, not citizens of any State, and the judgments under which the lands were sold were rendered by the commissioners for their own services under the act.
The court found abundant reasons, six in number, for refusing to sustain the title thus obtained. The act was apparently an attempt dishonestly to obtain the Indian title, and not intended to give a substitution for a personal service which would be likely, or was reasonably designed, to reach the persons to be affected.
The case of Voorhees v. Jackson, 10 Pet. 449, affirmed the title levied under the attachment laws of Ohio, and laid down the principle of assuming that all had been rightly done by a court having general jurisdiction of the subject matter.
In Cooper v. Smith, 25 Iowa, 269, it is said that where no process is served on the defendant, nor property attached, nor garnishee charged, nor appearance entered, a judgment based [p746] on a publication of the pendency of the suit will be void, and may be impeached, collaterally or otherwise, and forms no bar to a recovery in opposition to it, nor any foundation for a title claimed under it. The language is very general, and goes much beyond the requirement of the case, which was an appeal from a personal judgment obtained by publication against the defendant, and where, as the court say, the petition was not properly verified. All that the court decided was that this judgment should be reversed. This is quite a different question from the one before us. Titles obtained by purchase at a sale upon an erroneous judgment are generally good, although the judgment itself be afterwards reversed. McGoon v. Scales, 9 Wall. 311.
In Darrance v. Preston, 18 Iowa, 396, the distinction is pointed out between the validity of a judgment as to the amount realized from the sale of property within the jurisdiction of the court and its validity beyond that amount. Picquet v. Swan, 5 Mas. 35; Bissell v. Briggs, 9 Mass. 462; Ewer v. Coffin, 1 Cush. (Mass.) 23, are cited, but neither of them in its facts touches the question before us.
In Drake on Attachment, the rule is laid down in very general language; but none of the cases cited by him will control the present case. They are the following:--
Eaton v. Bridger, 33 N. H. 228, was decided upon the peculiar terms of the New Hampshire statute, which forbids the entry of a judgment unless the debtor was served with process, or actually appeared and answered in the suit. The court say the judgment was "not only unauthorized by law, but rendered in violation of its express provisions."
Johnson v. Dodge was a proceeding in the same action to obtain a reversal on appeal of the general judgment, and did not arise upon a contest for property sold under the judgment. Carleton v. Washington Insurance Co., 35 id. 162, and Bruce v. Cloutman, 45 id. 37, are to the same effect and upon the same statute.
Smith v. McCutchen, 38 Mo. 415, was a motion in the former suit to set aside the execution by a garnishee, and it was held that the statute was intended to extend to that class of cases. Abbott v. Shepard, 44 id. 273, is to the same effect, and is based upon Smith v. McCutchen, supra. [p747]
So, in Eastman v. Wadleigh, 65 Me. 251, the question arose in debt on the judgment, not upon a holding of land purchased under the judgment. It was decided upon the express language of the statute of Maine, strongly implying the power of the legislature to make it otherwise, had they so chosen.
It is said that the case where a preliminary seizure has been made, and jurisdiction thereby conferred, differs from that where the property is seized at the end of the action, in this: in the first case, the property is supposed to be so near to its owner that, if seizure is made of it, he will be aware of the fact, and have his opportunity to defend, and jurisdiction of the person is thus obtained. This, however, is matter of discretion and of judgment only. Such seizure is not in itself notice to the defendant, and it is not certain that he will by that means receive notice. Adopted as a means of communicating it, and although a very good means, it is not the only one, nor necessarily better than a publication of the pendency of the suit, made with an honest intention to reach the debtor. Who shall assume to say to the legislature that, if it authorizes a particular mode of giving notice to a debtor, its action may be sustained, but, if it adopts any or all others, its action is unconstitutional and void? The rule is universal that modes, means, questions of expediency or necessity are exclusively within the judgment of the legislature, and that the judiciary cannot review them. This has been so held in relation to a bank of the United States, to the legal tender act, and to cases arising under other provisions of the Constitution.
In Jarvis v. Barrett, 14 Wis. 591, such is the holding. The court say:
The essential fact on which the publication is made to depend is property of the defendant in the State, and not whether it has been attached. . . . There is no magic about the writ [of attachment] which should make it the exclusive remedy. The same legislative power which devised it can devise some other, and declare that it shall have the same force and effect. The particular means to be used are always within the control of the legislature, so that the end be not beyond the scope of legislative power.
If the legislature shall think that publication and deposit in the post office are likely to give the notice, there seems to be [p748] nothing in the nature of things to prevent their adoption in lieu of the attachment. The point of power cannot be thus controlled.
That a State can subject land within its limits belonging to nonresident owners to debts due to its own citizens as it can legislate upon all other local matters -- that it can prescribe the mode and process by which it is to be reached -- seems to me very plain.
I am not willing to declare that a sovereign State cannot subject the land within its limits to the payment of debts due to its citizens, or that the power to do so depends upon the fact whether its statute shall authorize the property to be levied upon at the commencement of the suit or at its termination. This is a matter of detail, and I am of opinion that, if reasonable notice be given, with an opportunity to defend when appearance is made, the question of power will be fully satisfied.