Hess v. Pawloski

Following is the case brief for Hess v. Pawloski, 274 U.S. 352 (1927)

Case Summary of Hess v. Pawloski:

  • Hess, a Pennsylvania resident, caused a car accident with Pawloski on a Massachusetts highway, injuring Pawloski.  Pawloski sued Hess in Massachusetts court.
  • Pawloski served process on Hess in accordance with Massachusetts statute, which requires service on the Massachusetts registrar of motor vehicles and mailing service to the non-resident’s address.
  • Hess challenged jurisdiction, arguing that the method of service violated due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.  The trial court and Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts denied Hess’s challenge.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed.  It held that the statute’s requirement of implied consent of service of process is appropriate.  Given the State’s interest in safety for both residents and non-residents on State highways, the Court found that the service of process statute does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Hess v. Pawloski Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Hess, a Pennsylvania resident, was driving on a Massachusetts highway when he caused an accident with Pawloski.  Pawloski was injured in the accident.  Pawloski sued Hess in state court to recover for his injuries.  He served Hess in accordance with a Massachusetts statute that allows for service on non-residents who were involved in motor vehicle accidents.

Specifically, process was served on the registrar of motor vehicles, who acts as an in-state agent for non-resident drivers in accordance with the Massachusetts statute.  In addition, process was sent by mail to Hess’s address also in accordance with the statute, requesting that Hess acknowledge receipt of the pleadings.

Hess appeared only to contest jurisdiction.  He made a motion arguing that the service of process deprived him of his property in violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Procedural History:

  • The trial court dismissed Hess’s motion.  The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found the statute to be a valid exercise of the State’s police power and affirmed the trial court’s decision.
  • A jury trial was held.  The jury found for Pawloski.  The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the verdict.
  • A writ of error was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Issue and Holding:

Does the Massachusetts statute, allowing for service on a non-resident motorist by serving the registrar of motor vehicles and mailing a copy to the non-resident, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?  No.

Judgment:

The judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Implied consent of non-resident motorists to service of process for accidents occurring in the State is proper provided that it puts non-residents on equal footing with residents, and is in the interest of promoting safety on State highways.

Reasoning:

A State may not stop non-residents from doing business in, or driving through, the State.  Because motor vehicles are dangerous machines, a State may pass reasonable regulations designed to ensure safety on the roadways for residents and non-residents alike.  The statute in question is meant to have non-residents answer for their conduct if involved in a motor vehicle accident in the State.

The statute’s rule of implied consent to service of process is proper because it is limited only to non-residents involved in motor vehicle accidents in the State, and it requires that the non-resident actually confirm receipt of the process.  Also, it does not unfairly discriminate against non-residents, but puts them on essentially the same footing as residents.  The State’s power to regulate the use of its highways extends to non-residents, and therefore the statute does not violate due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Significance:

Hess v. Pawloski reflected the Court’s attempt to deal with, at that time, an increasingly mobile society with the expanded use of the automobile.  Essentially, the Court acknowledged the need for personal service in a forum state, as required by Pennoyer v. Neff, but carved out an exception that was limited to a particular circumstance — non-resident motorists involved in motor vehicle accidents.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/274/352/case.html

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