Petrowski v. Hawkeye-Security Insurance Company

RESPONDENT: Hawkeye-Security Insurance Company

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

ARGUED: Mar 07, 1956
DECIDED: Mar 26, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Petrowski v. Hawkeye-Security Insurance Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 07, 1956 in Petrowski v. Hawkeye-Security Insurance Company

Earl Warren:

Number 469, John M. Petrowski, Grace Ringle, a minor, et cetera, versus Hawkeye-Security Insurance Company.

Mr. Tinkham.

Richard P. Tinkham, Jr.:

May it please the Court.

This case is before the Court on writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action is based upon diversity of citizenship in as much as all of the petitioners are resident of Wisconsin and the respondent was an Iowa Insurance Corporation.

The petitioner is John M.Petrowski and Grace Ringle, have brought this action originally.

They were very seriously injured in an automobile accident which occurred in Wisconsin on September 27th of 1951.

They started their suit in the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin by series of a summon upon the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles of the State of Wisconsin, pursuant to a power of attorney which had been executed by the respondent and filed with the Commissioner's Office authorizing service upon him.

After the suit was started, the respondent moved to dismiss the action and quash the service, taking the position that that service of process was not valid under the power of attorney.

The District Court overruled that motion, and then, subsequently, after the case has been issued, the respondent moved to interplead the other petitioners' named, Francis Gelhar and Ruth Petrowski.

They were made parties of this lawsuit at the request of respondent who stipulated in writing to jurisdiction of the District Court the same as if and I am quoting “personal service had been obtained” and a counterclaim for a declaratory relief against those particular inter pleaded petitioners.

The question before the Court today, deals with jurisdiction in persona.

The District Court proceeded to try this case upon the merits.

Evidence was presented, and made findings of fact and conclusions of law in favor of the petitioners.

The key question on the merits of the case which involved coverage under an insurance policy issued by the respondent was whether a restrictive endorsement attached to the policy, which denied to coverage to any person who is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, unless he was the named insured where I remember the name insurance household.

The validity of that particular restrictive endorsement was the question on the merits, and also, whether or not it was in effect at the time of this accident.

The District Court held in favor of the petitioners, finding that that restrictive endorsement was not in effect, that it was invalid, and made findings of fact that the conclusion of law in favor of the petitioners.

Then, the respondent appealed this case to the Court of Appeals and besides raising the issues on the merits of insurance coverage at the time of the accident, again, raised the issue of jurisdiction over the respondent's corporate person.

The Court of Appeals in a two-to-one decision, a majority of the Court of Appeals held that there was no jurisdiction in the District Court by a reason of the servers of process upon the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles under the power of attorney and reversed the District Court, solely upon the issue of jurisdiction and persona.

We have petitioned this Court and certiorari was granted.

Now, briefly, the questions presented are first of all, whether the power of attorney was valid and gave to the District Court through the service of process upon the Commissioner, jurisdiction to try the case.

And secondly, and irrespective of the answer of the first question, did the respondent, by its affirmative actions after the case had been issued, waive any jurisdictional question and did it not stipulate, in writing, to jurisdiction an as the case proceed in order that on quoting the stipulation that there could be an adjudication as to all parties injured in this accident upon the issues of insurance coverage to avoid a multiplicity of lawsuits and to make that determination res judicata.

I'm quoting from the stipulation itself.

It's our position that, of course, that was a waiver of any jurisdictional question and gave to the District Court jurisdiction to try the lawsuit.

Earl Warren:

Is there any reservation in the stipulation of the jurisdiction?

Richard P. Tinkham, Jr.:

No, sir, there was not.

The only reservation was made and I will read that to the Court or call the Court's attention to it very shortly, A reservation that they reserved the right to dispute the coverage of the insurance policy.

They denied that there was any coverage in force at the time of the accident, but the stipulation expressly states that they submit to the jurisdiction of the Court the same as a personal service had been obtained one upon the other.

Now, turning briefly to the facts, in 1950, the respondent which is an Iowa Corporation filed a power of attorney in question with the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles of the State of Wisconsin.

Now, that power of attorney I have set forth in full at pages 4 and 5 inform the important points I have put out in full at pages 4 and 5 of the brief for petitioners, and I respectfully call the Court's attention to it.