in rem

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In rem is a Latin term meaning "against a thing," which refers to a court’s power to adjudicate matters directed against property. In rem jurisdiction is one of the two forms of personal jurisdiction, with the other being in personam jurisdiction.

A court can exercise in rem jurisdiction over any real or personal property within its territorial jurisdiction. For example, when the plaintiff filed an action to exercise a mechanic’s lien in Publix Super Markets, Inc. v. Cheesbro Roofing, Inc., the plaintiff brought an in rem action because a mechanic’s lien requires the court to directly transfer title of property. Because decisions made in rem are binding on property rather than people, a court can exercise in rem jurisdiction even if the property’s owner is not within the court’s territorial jurisdiction.

There are two separate kinds of in rem jurisdiction a court may exercise: Pure in rem and quasi in rem. 

Pure in rem

Pure in rem actions are binding against the world rather than just the parties to the action.

  • For example, an action to quiet title is a pure in rem action because if the party bringing the action prevails, people who were present and people who were not present during the action are both barred from challenging the owner’s title in the future. 

  • To satisfy the power test (i.e., to ensure that the forum in which the action has been brought has power over the target; also known as the “minimum contacts” requirement) such an action normally must be brought where the “thing” is.

Quasi in rem 

Quasi in rem actions are actions which are only binding against individual parties. 

There are two types of quasi in rem actions, which are normally referred to as quasi in rem subtype 1 and quasi in rem subtype 2. 

In a quasi in rem subtype 1 action, a plaintiff may sue to enforce a pre-existing interest in the named property. For example, a lender might use a quasi in rem subtype 1 action to foreclose a mortgage.

A quasi in rem subtype 2 action is more complicated. In this type of action, a plaintiff may sue to apply the named property to satisfy their claim against the property's owner, where the plaintiff's claim is unrelated to the property. This type of action is technically against the named property, not the property's owner. Thus, the outcome of the case is final regarding the plaintiff's claim against the named property and does not affect the plaintiff's future claim against other pieces of property or the property's actual owner. See res judicata.

For example, an American plaintiff injured by a reckless driver while vacationing in a foreign country might use a quasi in rem subtype 2 to recover from the driver if American courts could not obtain personal jurisdiction over the person, but could establish jurisdiction over the driver’s property.

[Last updated in September of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]