In Rem Jurisdiction


In rem is a Latin term which means “against or about a thing.”  “Jurisdiction in rem” is the legal term used to describe the exercise of power by a court over property (either real or personal) or a “status” against a person over whom the court does not have “in personam jurisdiction”.  In rem jurisdiction refers to one of three kinds of jurisdiction that federal and state courts assert, the others being in personam and quasi in rem.   Jurisdiction in rem assumes that the property or status is the primary object of the action.

An “in rem proceeding” refers to a lawsuit or other legal action directed toward property, rather than toward a particular person.  The action must be brought in the court which has jurisdiction, as determined by the location of the property.  Usually, the property must be located in the same county as the court for it to have in rem jurisdiction.  Any judgment must be enforced upon the property and does not attach to a person.  The judgment is binding on all persons who claim title to the property.

Examples of in rem actions include partitions, actions to quiet title, or foreclosure of a lien upon real estate. 

Within the US federal court system, jurisdiction in rem typically refers to the exercise of rights by a federal court over large items of moveable property, or real property, located within the court’s jurisdiction.  The most frequent circumstance in which this occurs in the Anglo-American legal system is when a suit is brought in admiralty law against a vessel to satisfy debts arising from the operation or use of the vessel.

In rem jurisdiction in relation to state courts refers to the power the state court exercise over real property or personal property or a person’s marital status.  State courts have the power to determine legal ownership of any real or personal property within the state’s boundaries.

Therefore a right in rem or a judgment in rem binds the world as opposed to rights and judgments inter partes which only bind those involved in their creation.

Originally, the notion of in rem jurisdiction arose in situations in which property was identified but the owner was unknown.  This caused difficulty because in law generally only a person may be a party to a judicial proceeding, and a non-person would at least have to have a guardian appointed to represent its interests, or the interests of the unknown owner.

An action in rem is therefore a proceeding that takes no notice of the owner of the property but determines rights in the property that are conclusive against the entire world.  The object of the lawsuit is to determine the disposition of the property, regardless of who the owner is or who else might have an interest in it.  Interested parties might appear and make out a case one way or another, but the action is in rem, against the things.

In rem lawsuits can be brought against the property of debtors in order to collect what is owed, and they are begun for the partition of real property, foreclosure of mortgages, and the enforcement of liens. They may be directed against real or personal property. In rem actions are permitted only when the court has control of the property or where its authority extends to cover it.  The in rem jurisdiction of a court may be exercised only after parties who are known to have an interest in the property are notified of the proceedings and have been given a chance to present their claim to the court.