Hanna v. Plumer

LOCATION: Criminal District Court, Parish of New Orleans

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 380 US 460 (1965)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 1965
DECIDED: Apr 26, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Hanna v. Plumer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1965 in Hanna v. Plumer

Earl Warren:

Number 171, Edward -- Eddie V. Hannah, Petitioner, versus, Edward M. Plumer, Jr., Executor.

Mr. Fitzpatrick.

James J. Fitzpatrick:

Mr. Chief Justice, I'd like to present Attorney Albert P. Zabin of the Boston, Massachusetts Bar who is -- who did not have all of the qualifications from membership to this Bar.

I move that he be admitted to argue for the purposes pro hoc vice this case in behalf of petitioner.

Earl Warren:

Motion is granted, (Voice Overlap) --

James J. Fitzpatrick:

Thank you very much.

Earl Warren:

You may argue, Mr. --

James J. Fitzpatrick:

Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Zabin.

Albert P. Zabin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

On November 5th, 1961, the petitioner, a citizen of Ohio, received severe and crippling injuries in an automobile accident in South Carolina because of the alleged negligence of the respondent's (Inaudible).

She commenced suit in the United States District Court in the District of Massachusetts against the respondent, a citizen of Massachusetts, and has been effectively barred from ever having a hearing on the merits of her claim because she complied with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The respondent qualified as executor by filing a performance bond in the probate court are in March 1st, 1962.

The complaint in this action was filed on February 6th, 1963 and service was made in full compliance with Rule 4 (d) (1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the United States Marshall left a copy of the summons and the complaint at the respondent's dwelling house in the hands of his wife.

Section 9 of Chapter 197 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides in substance that an action against an executor must first be commenced within a year of his giving bond, that it must be served within a year, and that service must be made personally upon the executor unless a statutory notice of the suit has been filed in the probate court or unless the executor accepts service.

The respondent filed his answer in the United States District Court on February 26th, 1963, two days prior to the expiration of the time limited by the Massachusetts statute here involved.

On August 5th, the respondent filed interrogatories and on August 26th, he moved for summary judgment.

The motion was allowed.

The District Court holding that under the doctrine of Guaranty Trust versus York and Ragan versus Merchants Transfer Company, the motion would have to be allowed because service was made pursuant to the federal rules and not under Massachusetts statute, Section 9, Chapter 197.

Timely appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit which affirmed the decision of the District Court on April 29th.

This Court granted our petition for writ of certiorari on October 12th, 1964.

The issue in this case is whether in a case where federal jurisdiction is based solely on diversity of citizenship between the litigants, service upon an executor shall be made in the mode and manner prescribed by state law or in the mode and manner prescribed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures.

Now, the action in this case was commenced within the year and service was made within the year.

Therefore, timeliness of this action is not an issue on this appeal, and it is for this reason that the instant case is distinguishable from Ragan versus Merchants Transfer Company and Guaranty Trust Company versus York, relied on by the courts below and by the respondent here.

Unlike those cases, the application of Rule 4 (d) (1) in this case does not link from the time in which Mrs. Hannah had to maintain her action by one instant, at least in this respect, the defendant -- the respondent has not been prejudiced by the application of the federal rules.

Though stated broadly, the issue in this case is whether there shall be one rule governing service of process in the United States District Courts whether there shall be 50.

Potter Stewart:

There's no question about actual notice here, is there?

Albert P. Zabin:

The -- I was going to come to that.

In the --

Potter Stewart:

Well, come to it at your own time.