Pennoyer v. Neff

95 U.S. (5 Otto) 714 (1877)


Neff (P) staked a claim for land from the federal government. As part of that claim, P sought advice from Mitchell, an attorney, who specialized in land litigations. P never paid Mitchell. Mitchell eventually sued P in Oregon state court to recover unpaid legal fees. Neff (P) owned real property in Oregon and Mitchell sued P to recover unpaid legal fees that were owed to him. P was a nonresident and was served by constructive service of summons by publication. This was published in the local newspaper. P was not an Oregon resident and failed to see the notice and did not oppose the suit or defend his rights. Mitchell eventually obtained a default judgment in 1866. P’s land patent arrived about the same time, and this enabled Mitchell to have the land seized and sold at auction to satisfy the judgment. Mitchell bought the land at the sale and then assigned it to Pennoyer (D) a few days after the auction. D spent nine years and money improving the land when P learned of the sale and sued D in federal court in Oregon to recover his property. P claimed that the court ordering the sale had never acquired personal jurisdiction over him or the land. Without personal jurisdiction, the court could not have adjudicated the property rights between P and Mitchell and the sheriff's sale was null and void. The Federal Circuit Court sided with P based on a technicality related to how the notice had been published. D appealed.