Pennoyer v. Neff

95 U.S. 714 (1877)


  • Neff, illiterate, left Iowa in 1848 at age 24 and headed towards Oregon to Claim land under the Oregon Donation act.
  • To qualify for land under the Act a person had to:
  1. Prove citizenship of Oregon
  2. File by 12/1/1850
  3. Provide two affidavits from disinterested parties testifying that claimant was cultivating the land for his own use 4 years later
  • Neff complied with all the rules and completed the necessary paperwork by 1856
  • Neff met with Portland Attorney JH Mitchell between early 1862 to mid-1863
  • In mid-1862 another affidavit was filed on behalf of Neff and he received a document from the government stating that he had met the criteria en would be issued a patent for the land.
  • Neff left for California sometime before 1865
  • In 1865, Mitchell filed suit against Neff for unpaid legal fees
  • Mitchell supplied an affidavit stating that Neff could not be found and was living in California, providing no details of what he had done to locate Neff. This affidavit stated that Neff had property, but failed to attach the property (therefore court does not have quasi in rem jurisdicton?)
  • Notice of the lawsuit was published in a weekly Catholic newspaper for 6 weeks
  • A default judgment was entered against Neff in 2/1866, Mitchell did not immediately execute his right to the judgment
  • The patent to Neff’s land arrived in Oregon (presumably) between 2/1866 and 7/1866.
  • Mitchell sought a writ of execution on the judgment in 7/ 1866, and Oregon Service procedure as to notice was followed
  • Property sold at sheriff’s auction in 8/66, and bought by JH Mitchell
  • 3 days later, the property was sold to Pennoyer, who for 8 years paid taxes, worked on the land, and sold a small piece of it.

Procedural History:

  • Neff v. Pennoyer was filed in federal court on 9/10/1874.
  • The court decided in favor of Neff and held that the affidavit describing Mitchell’s efforts to find Neff did not meet Oregon statutory requirements and voided the default judgment in Mitchell v. Neff.
  • Pennoyer appealed to the Supreme Court, which disagreed with the lower court, but found another jurisdictional defect: Mitchell had not attached the property before filing suit.


Whether a court could order property owned by an out-of-state resident to be seized and sold when the out-of-state resident was not served actual notice.


A court cannot order property owned by an out-of-state resident to be seized and sold when the out-of-state resident was not served actual notice.


In order for the trial court to have jurisdiction over the property, the property needed to be attached before entry of the judgment. It then has quasi in rem jurisdiction. Constructive notice is not enough to inform a person living in another state, except for cases affecting the personal status of the plaintiff (like divorce); or the case is in rem and the property sought is within the boundaries of the state. The law assumes that property is always in the possession of the owner, and the owner therefore knows what happens to his property; therefore, attachment of the property before judicial proceedings makes constructive notice sufficient 


*In order for a judgment to be given “full faith and credit” from another state, it had to have jurisdiction to originally issue the judgment. Since the court had no jurisdiction, no other state should honor the judgment. Having jurisdiction over the defendant is an element of due process of law. If there is no due process the judgment cannot be enforced either within or without the state.

Court’s Order:

Court decides for Neff

New Information, questions, etc:

Used in contemporary court decisions about personal jurisdiction.

How to get personal jurisdiction:

  1. Serve process in state when individual is present in the state.
  2. In rem and quasi in rem jurisdiction
  3. Voluntary appearance or consent