Sex & the Senator in Pennoyer v. Neff

Sex & the Senator in Pennoyer v. Neff


Welcome to LearnLawBetter, where today we are going to discuss the story behind Pennoyer v. Neff, a case that most law students read
in their civil procedure casebook. In addition to the story, stay to the end
for the rule of law from the case. Hi, this is Beau Baez, and today I want to
talk to you about Pennoyer v. Neff, a case I read during the first year of law school
and which is still required reading in many Civil Procedure courses. The Supreme Court case revolves around three
people: Marcus Neff, the plaintiff; Sylvester Pennoyer, the defendant; and the main figure
in our story today, John Hipple Mitchell— a U.S. Senator when the case was decided. Mitchell was born with the name John Mitchell
Hipple in Pennsylvania. He became a school teacher, and was forced
to marry a 15 year old student who he got pregnant. He then became a lawyer, but decided
he was unhappy in Pennsylvania so in 1860 he left his wife, stole today’s equivalent
of $112,000 in client funds, and left for California with his mistress. When his mistress got sick, Hipple abandoned
her in California, moved up to Oregon, and there changed his last name from Hipple to
Mitchell. Neff needed legal help in securing land that
he was trying to get under the Federal Donation Act, a federal law to encourage people to move to Oregon so Neff went to Mitchell for legal advice. Before Neff received legal title to the land
he had settled, he left Oregon, at which point Mitchell filed suit for unpaid legal bills. Under Oregon law, Mitchell was required to
provide notice by publication if the defendant could not be found in Oregon. Now apparently Oregon law did not specify the
type of publication, so Mitchell placed the notice in a Methodist publication called the
Pacific Christian Advocate—I mean almost certainly a ploy to make sure that Neff would never
find out about the law suit against him. Of course, Neff did not show up for trial
so Mitchell won the case in early 1866, but Mitchell held on to the judgment for a few
months until he received notice that the federal government had in fact given legal title to Neff for the land that he had settled. Now this fact is important, as Neff did not legally own the property in Oregon until after the trial was over. Mitchell then purchased the land at auction,
and a few days later assigned the land to Pennoyer, a person who eventually was to become a governor of the State of Oregon. Now let’s Fast forward eight years, when in 1874 Neff suddenly shows up and claims that the land was still his, claiming that the Oregon courts did not
have jurisdiction over him at the time of the original lawsuit. By this time Mitchell was one of Oregon’s
two U.S. Senators, though he was not a named party in the lawsuit. The case made it’s way up all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,
which held Oregon did not have jurisdiction over Neff under the Due Process Clause of
the 14th Amendment. Now I always find it interesting when people talk about
the good old days, when people were more moral than they are today. Frankly, there is nothing new under the sun. When Mitchell became a U.S. Senator, it was
revealed that he had never divorced his first wife back in Pennsylvania, which meant that
he was a bigamist. Just before Mitchell’s second election to
the Senate, the newspapers published a series of letters proving that Mitchell had a five year affair
with his current wife’s sister—Mitchell, nonetheless, won reelection. In 1905, Senator Mitchell was convicted of
federal land fraud and sentenced to 6 months in prison. Before the Senate could expel him, he died
from complications related to some dental work. You’ll be glad to know that since he died
a Senator, the Senate did vote to cover his funeral expenses. I’d like to send a shout out to Dean Wendy Perdue
at the University of Richmond School of Law, who taught me Pennoyer v. Neff when I was
a law student at Georgetown. Now for the rule of law: a court has jurisdiction
to hear a lawsuit involving an out-of-state resident when the state court has personal
jurisdiction over the out-of-state resident; or, when the out-of-state resident owns property
in the state. Neff won this case because he was not in Oregon
at the time the lawsuit began, and he did not have legal title to the property at the
time of the lawsuit—he received legal title from the federal government after Mitchell’s legal billing lawsuit. If you liked this episode hit the like button. Also, let me know in the comments section
how my videos are helping you, and tell me what topics you want me to cover in a future episode. We have many other episodes, so feel free
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5 comments

  1. Tomorrow is my first day at law school, this is the case I have to read for class. All the legalese brought me to the brink of tears. I'm so glad I found you before I went all ugly cry on this stuff. Thanks!

  2. I heard all my classmates complaining about this case, saying it took them 3 or 4 hours to read and analyze all the notes. Thank you so much for the video. Watching it before I read the case made everything much clearer. Hopefully I get to show off my knowledge tomorrow in class. 🙂

  3. I am enjoying your videos. I am not a law student but I enjoy learning about the law and how it works. I am actually trying my hand at Civil Procedure now.
    Question(s): Did anything in this case have to do with notice?
    Can you speak on how Pennoyer and International Shoe work together or differ from one another?
    Awesome videos…

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