375 U.S. 311 (1964), 81, National Equipment Rental, Ltd. v. Szukhent

Docket Nº:No. 81
Citation:375 U.S. 311, 84 S.Ct. 411, 11 L.Ed.2d 354
Party Name:National Equipment Rental, Ltd. v. Szukhent
Case Date:January 06, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 311

375 U.S. 311 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 411, 11 L.Ed.2d 354

National Equipment Rental, Ltd.

v.

Szukhent

No. 81

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 6, 1964

Argued November 20, 1963

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, a corporation with its principal place of business in New York, sued respondents, residents of Michigan, in a federal court in New York, claiming that respondents had defaulted in payments due under a farm equipment lease. The lease was on a printed form, 1 1/2 pages in length, and consisted of 18 numbered paragraphs. The last paragraph, appearing just above respondents' signatures, provided that

the Lessee hereby designates Florence Weinberg, 47-21 Forty-First Street, Long Island City, N. Y., as agent for the purpose of accepting service of any process within the State of New York.

The respondents were not acquainted with Florence Weinberg, and she had not expressly undertaken to transmit notice to them. The Marshal delivered two copies of the summons and complaint to Florence Weinberg. That same day, she mailed the summons and complaint to the respondents, together with a letter stating that the documents had been served upon her as the respondents' agent for the purpose of accepting service of process in New York, in accordance with the agreement contained in the lease. The petitioner itself also notified the respondents by certified mail of the service of process upon Florence Weinberg.

Held: prompt notice to the respondents having been given, Florence Weinberg was their "agent authorized by appointment" to receive process within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d)(1). Pp. 316-318.

(a) No questions of subject matter jurisdiction or of venue are here presented. Federal jurisdiction existed by reason of diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. P. 313, n. 2.

(b) Since the respondents did in fact receive complete and timely notice of the lawsuit pending against them, no question of due process is reached or decided. P. 315.

(c) Parties to a contract may agree in advance to submit to the jurisdiction of a given court, to permit notice to be served by the opposing party, or even to waive notice altogether. P. 315.

(d) Florence Weinberg's prompt acceptance and transmittal to the respondents of the summons and complaint pursuant to the

Page 312

authorization was itself sufficient to validate the agency, even though there was no explicit previous promise on her part to do so. P. 310.

(e) There is no relevant concept of state law which would invalidate the agency here at issue. P. 316.

(f) The fact that the designated agent was not personally known to the respondents at the time of her appointment, and that she may be related to an officer of the petitioner corporation, did not invalidate the agency. P. 317.

(g) The case of Rosenthal v. United Transp. Co., 196 A.D. 540, 188 N.Y.S. 154, is inapposite. P. 317, n. 8.

311 F.2d 79, reversed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that service of process upon an individual may be made "by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an agent authorized by appointment . . . to receive service of process."1 The petitioner is a corporation with

Page 313

its principal place of business in New York. It sued the respondents, residents of Michigan, in a New York federal court, claiming that the respondents had defaulted under a farm equipment lease. The only question now before us is whether the person upon whom the summons and complaint were served was "an agent authorized by appointment" to receive the same, so as to subject the respondents to the jurisdiction of the federal court in New York.2

The respondents obtained certain farm equipment from the petitioner under a lease executed in 1961. The lease was on a printed form less than a page and a half in length, and consisted of 18 numbered paragraphs. The last numbered paragraph, appearing just above the respondents' signatures and printed in the same type used in the remainder of the instrument, provided that

the Lessee hereby designates Florence Weinberg, 47-21 Forty-first Street, Long Island City, N.Y., as agent for the purpose of accepting service of any process within the State of New York.3

The respondents were not acquainted with Florence Weinberg.

Page 314

In 1962, the petitioner commenced the present action by filing in the federal court in New York a complaint which alleged that the respondents had failed to make any of the periodic payments specified by the lease. The Marshal delivered two copies of the summons and complaint to Florence Weinberg. That same day, she mailed the summons and complaint to the respondents, together with a letter stating that the documents had been served upon her as the respondents' agent for the purpose of accepting service of process in New York, in accordance with the agreement contained in the lease.4 The petitioner itself also notified the respondents by certified mail of the service of process upon Florence Weinberg.

Upon motion of the respondents, the District Court quashed service of the summons and complaint, holding that, although Florence Weinberg had promptly notified the respondents of the service of process and mailed copies of the summons and complaint to them, the lease agreement itself had not explicitly required her to do so, and there was therefore a "failure of the agency arrangement to achieve intrinsic and continuing reality." 30 F.R.D. 3, 5. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 311 F.2d 79, and we granted certiorari, 372 U.S. 974. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we have concluded that Florence Weinberg was "an agent authorized by appointment . . . to receive service of process," and accordingly [84 S.Ct. 414] we reverse the judgment before us.

Page 315

We need not and do not in this case reach the situation where no personal notice has been given to the defendant. Since the respondents did in fact receive complete and timely notice of the lawsuit pending against them, no due process claim has been made. The case before us is therefore quite different from cases where there was no actual notice, such as Schroeder v. City of New York, 371 U.S. 208; Walker v. Hutchinson City, 352 U.S. 112; and Mullane v. Central Hanover Tr. Co., 339 U.S. 306. Similarly, as the Court of Appeals recognized, this Court's decision in Wuchter v. Pizzutti, 276 U.S. 13, is inapposite here. In that case, a state nonresident motorist statute which failed to provide explicitly for communication of notice was held unconstitutional, despite the fact that notice had been given to the defendant in that particular case. Wuchter dealt with the limitations imposed by the Fourteenth Amendment upon a statutory scheme by which a State attempts to subject nonresident individuals to the jurisdiction of its courts. The question presented here, on the other hand, is whether a party to a private contract may appoint an agent to receive service of process within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d)(1), where the agent is not personally known to the party and where the agent has not expressly undertaken to transmit notice to the party.

The purpose underlying the contractual provision here at issue seems clear. The clause was inserted by the petitioner and agreed to by the respondents in order to assure that any litigation under the lease should be conducted in the State of New York. The contract specifically provided that

This agreement shall be deemed to have been made in Nassau County, New York, regardless of the order in which the signatures of the parties shall be affixed hereto, and shall be interpreted, and the rights and liabilities of the parties here determined, in accordance with the laws of the State of New York.

And it is settled,

Page 316

as the courts below recognized, that parties to a contract may agree in advance to submit to the jurisdiction of a given court, to permit notice to be served by the opposing party, or even to waive notice altogether. See, e.g., Kenny Construction Co. v. Allen, 101 U.S.App.D.C. 334, 248 F.2d 656 (1957); Bowles v. J. J. Schmitt & Co., Inc., 170 F.2d 617 (C.A.2d Cir. 1948); Gilbert v. Burnstine, 255 N.Y. 348, 174 N.E. 706 (1931).

Under well settled general principles of the law of agency, Florence Weinberg's prompt acceptance and transmittal to the respondents of the summons and complaint pursuant to the authorization was itself sufficient to validate the agency, even though there was no explicit previous promise on her part to do so.

The principal's authorization may neither expressly nor impliedly request any expression of assent by the agent as a condition of the authority, and in such a case any exercise of power by the agent within the scope of the authorization, during the term for which it was given, or within a reasonable time if no fixed term was mentioned, will bind the principal.

2 Williston on Contracts (3d ed. 1959), § 274.

We deal here with a Federal Rule, applicable to federal courts in all 50 States. But even if we were to assume that this uniform federal standard should give way to contrary local policies, there is no relevant concept of state law which would invalidate the agency here at issue. In Michigan, where the respondents reside, the statute which validates [84 S.Ct. 415] service of process under the circumstances present in this case contains no provision requiring that the appointed agent expressly undertake to notify the principal of the service of process.5 Similarly, New York law, which it was agreed should be applicable to the lease provisions, does not require any such express promise by the agent in order to create a valid agency for receipt of

Page 317

process. The New York statutory short form of general power of attorney, which...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP