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Hoagland v. Springer

Decided: April 25, 1962.


Halpern, A.j.s.c. (orally delivered).


With respect to the motions I have just heard, it should be noted that I have read and considered all of the pleadings, the affidavits filed in connection with the motions, the depositions taken, and the briefs filed by all of the parties. I also have now considered the arguments of counsel.

It is undisputed, and I find, that during the month of March 1960, the defendant Springer, a New Jersey resident, owned a conventional Ford tractor which he took to Dearborn, Michigan, where the defendant Cummins Diesel Michigan, Inc. (to be hereinafter referred to as "Michigan") replaced the existing engine with a diesel driven engine manufactured by the defendant Cummins Engine Company, Inc. (to be hereinafter referred to as "Engine").

Engine is an Indiana corporation, and Michigan is a Michigan corporation. Neither of them is authorized to do business in New Jersey.

On July 13, 1960, the plaintiff Elmer Hoagland, while operating Springer's Ford tractor on the New Jersey Turnpike, sustained severe personal injuries which he charges were caused by a defect in the diesel engine and in its servicing and maintenance which caused it to explode and disintegrate.

Plaintiff has joined, as parties defendants in this suit, Springer, Engine, Michigan and Cummins Diesel Metropolitan, Inc. (to be hereinafter referred to as "Metropolitan").

Service of process was duly made upon Springer and Metropolitan, and no question is presented on these motions with respect to the validity of service upon them.

Engine and Michigan, however, seek to set aside the service of process made upon them, and seek a dismissal of the plaintiff's suit.

Michigan and Engine were each served with process by the Sheriff of Essex County, who left copies of the summons and complaints with one E. Jahn, an officer of Metropolitan, at Metropolitan's office in Newark, New Jersey. In addition, plaintiff mailed copies of the summons and complaints to Michigan and Engine by registered mail, return receipt requested, to their respective home offices in Michigan and Indiana. There is no dispute as to the facts just stated.

The only issue for determination at this time is whether the process as served is sufficient to give this court in personam jurisdiction over Michigan and Engine.

At the outset I point out that I will only consider the service made by registered mail, and since this is dispositive of the motions, there is no need to consider the validity of the attempted personal service on E. Jahn as the alleged agent of Michigan and Engine.

A brief reference to Miklos v. Liberty Coach Company , 48 N.J. Super. 591 (App. Div. 1958), is necessary to set the stage for my ultimate decision. In Miklos the plaintiff attempted to sue the Indiana manufacturer of an alleged defective trailer by serving process upon the New Jersey dealer who sold plaintiff the trailer.

Judge Goldmann, writing for the Appellate Division, affirmed the trial court in setting aside the service because the dealer was not the manufacturer's agent for the purpose of being served with process under R.R. 4:4-4(d). He so held even though he concluded that the manufacturer had

sufficient minimum contacts in New Jersey to make it amenable to suit in New Jersey, provided due process could have been complied with by adequate provision for service of process.

Miklos was decided February 7, 1958, at a time when R.R. 4:4-4(d) provided:

"(d) Upon a domestic or foreign corporation, by serving, in the manner prescribed in paragraph (a), an officer, director, trustee, or a managing or general agent; or if service cannot be made upon any of the foregoing and if there is no office or place of business within this State, by serving any servant of the corporation within this State acting in the discharge of his duties; or by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to any person authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process on behalf of the corporation; or by leaving a copy of the same at the registered office of the corporation with any person in charge thereof."

In other words, the Supreme Court, by rule, provided four distinct methods for service of process upon a foreign corporation. Counsel attempting to serve a foreign corporation would have to utilize one of the four methods provided by the rule, and if he was unable to serve it by one of these methods, then New Jersey could not obtain jurisdiction over the foreign corporation. It is obvious that when Miklos was decided the plaintiff in that case was unable to meet the requirements of the existing rule, and the court had no alternative but to set aside the service of process.

The Miklos case pointed up the inadequacy of the rule provision with respect to service of process on foreign corporations, and it led the Supreme Court to amend R.R. 4:4-4(d) on September 3, 1958 (about two months after the Miklos decision), by adding to the end of the rule the following:

"or, [providing now a fifth method] if service cannot be made upon any of the foregoing and the corporation is a foreign corporation, then, subject to due process of law, by mailing, registered mail return receipt requested, a copy of the summons and complaint to a registered

agent for service, or to its principal place of business, or to its registered office." (Emphasis added)

It is clear from the amendment that New Jersey, since September 3, 1958, permitted in personam suits against foreign corporations by serving them by registered mail, provided they had the "minimum contacts" in New Jersey, referred to in Miklos and International Shoe Company v. Washington , 326 U.S. 310 (1945).

The real problem lies in determining whether the foreign corporation has the requisite "minimum contacts," in New Jersey to give our courts in personam jurisdiction.

We in New Jersey are today committed to the International Shoe Company philosophy that due process is complied with if a foreign corporation has certain minimum contacts in New Jersey, so that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. We in New Jersey are one of the many states which are expanding their jurisdiction over foreign corporations, because we take the realistic and practical view that such is required by the ever increasing nationalization of commerce and its spread among the states.

This doctrine has been consistently followed by our New Jersey Courts. See Whalen v. Young , 15 N.J. 321 (1954); the Miklos case that I mentioned before; Malavasi v. Villavecchia , 62 N.J. Super. 510 (Law Div. 1960). See also McGee v. International Life Ins. Company , 355 U.S. 220 (1957), wherein the Supreme Court upheld a California decision which permitted a suit to be brought in California against a Texas corporation (service was made there by registered mail) on a policy of insurance written in Arizona, even though this was the only policy ever written by the company through the mail in California.

The applicable standards to be met to give a state jurisdiction over a foreign corporation are well summarized by the authors of a note in 47 Geo. ...

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