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Actions In Rem: Proceeding Against Property

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Actions In Rem: Proceeding Against Property.—In an in rem action, which is brought directly against a property interest, a State can validly proceed to settle controversies with regard to rights or claims against tangible or intangible property within its borders, notwithstanding that jurisdiction over the defendant was never established.864 Unlike jurisdiction in personam, a judgment entered by a court with in rem jurisdiction does not bind the defendant personally but determines the title to or status of the only property in question.865 Proceedings brought to register title to land,866 to condemn867 or confiscate868 real or personal property, or to administer a decedent's estate869 are typical in rem actions. Due process is satisfied by seizure of the property (the "res") and notice to all who have or may have interests therein.870 Under prior case law, a court could acquire in rem jurisdiction over nonresidents by mere constructive service of process,871 under the theory that property was always in possession of its owners and that seizure would afford them notice, inasmuch as they would keep themselves ap-prized of the state of their property. It was held, however, that this fiction did not satisfy the requirements of due process, and, whatever the nature of the proceeding, that notice must be given in a manner that actually notifies the person being sought or that has a reasonable certainty of resulting in such notice.872

864 Accordingly, by reason of its inherent authority over titles to land within its territorial confines, a state court could proceed to judgment respecting the ownership of such property, even though it lacked a constitutional competence to reach claimants of title who resided beyond its borders. Arndt v. Griggs, 134 U.S. 316, 321 (1890); Grannis v. Ordean, 234 U.S. 385 (1914); Pennington v. Fourth Nat'l Bank, 243 U.S. 269, 271 (1917).

865 Boswell's Lessee v. Otis, 50 U.S. (9 How.) 336, 348 (1850).

866 American Land Co. v. Zeiss, 219 U.S. 47 (1911); Tyler v. Judges of the Court of Registration, 175 Mass. 71, 76, 55 N.E. 812, 814 (Chief Justice Holmes), appeal dismissed, 179 U.S. 405 (1900).

867 Huling v. Kaw Valley Ry. & Improvement Co., 130 U.S. 559 (1889).

868 The Confiscation Cases, 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 92 (1874).

869 Clarke v. Clarke, 178 U.S. 186 (1900); Riley v. New York Trust Co., 315 U.S. 343 (1942).

870 Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1878). Predeprivation notice and hearing may be required if the property is not the sort that, given advance warning, could be removed to another jurisdiction, destroyed, or concealed. United States v. James Daniel Good Real Property, 510 U.S. 43 (1993) (notice to owner required before seizure of house by government).

871 Arndt v. Griggs, 134 U.S. 316 (1890); Ballard v. Hunter, 204 U.S. 241 (1907); Security Savings Bank v. California, 263 U.S. 282 (1923).

872 Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306 (1950); Walker v. City of Hutchinson, 352 U.S. 112 (1956); Schroeder v. City of New York, 371 U.S. 208 (1962); Robinson v. Hanrahan, 409 U.S. 38 (1972).

Although the Court has now held "that all assertions of state-court jurisdiction must be evaluated according to the ['minimum contacts'] standards set forth in International Shoe Co. v. Washington,"873 it does not appear that this will appreciably change the result for in rem jurisdiction over property. "[T]he presence of property in a State may bear on the existence of jurisdiction by providing contacts among the forum State, the defendant, and the litigation. For example, when claims to the property itself are the source of the underlying controversy between the plaintiff and the defendant, it would be unusual for the State where the property is located not to have jurisdiction. In such cases, the defendant's claim to property located in the State would normally indicate that he expected to benefit from the State's protection of his interest. The State's strong interests in assuring the marketability of property within its borders and in providing a procedure for peaceful resolution of disputes about the possession of that property would also support jurisdiction, as would the likelihood that important records and witnesses will be found in the State."874 Thus, for "true" in rem actions, the old results are likely to still prevail.

873 433 U.S. 186 (1977).

874 433 U.S. at 207-08 (footnote citations omitted). The Court also suggested that the State would usually have jurisdiction in cases such as those arising from injuries suffered on the property of an absentee owner, where the defendant's ownership of the property is conceded but the cause of action is otherwise related to rights and duties growing out of that controversy. Id.

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Last modified: June 9, 2014