Hess V Pawloski

Fact pattern and procedural history

Defendant Hess, a resident of Pennsylvania, caused a motor vehicle accident on a public highway in Massachusetts, injuring plaintiff Pawlowski, who sued for personal injury. Massachusetts law provided for an altered service of process for nonresidents who operate motor vehicles on state highways, and Hess was so served. Hess appeared to contest jurisdiction and moved to dismiss on constitutional grounds, which the trial court denied. The case proceeded to SCOTUS.

Questions of law

Can a state enact legislation which gives it jurisdiction over corporations who conduct business in it or nonresidents who operate motor vehicles in it?

Finding

SCOTUS affirmed, finding that because motor vehicles were “dangerous machines” and a State naturally had the authority to make and enforce regulations governing their use, it also had the authority to require the appointment of an agent for service of process before permitting the use of its highways. States do not have the right to exclude natural persons, but they do have the right to restrict the use of its highways, and so the state was not violating constitutional rights by declaring that use of a state’s highways was consent to service of process upon the registrar, provided that certain notice requirements were met and that the implied consent was limited to proceedings growing out of accidents or collisions on the highway.

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