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Hess v. Pawloski

Citation. 274 U.S. 352 (1927)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Pawloski sued Hess for injuries sustained in an automobile accident.  A Massachusetts state court entered judgment for Pawloski. Hess objected to the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts court.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A state can declare that use of its roads by a nonresident driver is the equivalent of appointing a state official as the driver’s agent for service of processin the event of an action arising out of an auto accident or collision involving the nonresident driver in the state.


Pawloski (a Massachusetts resident) sued Hess (a Pennsylvania resident) for injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Jurisdiction was based on a state law that provided in case of a car accident involving a nonresident driving in Massachusetts, the nonresident would be deemed to consent to service of process on a Massachusetts registrar or his successor in office (with notice to be provided “forthwith” by the plaintiff to the defendant by mail). The Massachusetts court entered judgment for Pawloski and Hess sought review, objecting to the Massachusetts court’s jurisdiction over him.


Did the Massachusetts court properly exercise jurisdiction over Hess based on the state statute that provided for consent to service of process on the registrar by nonresidents involved in automobile accidents?


Yes.  The state could constitutionally require a nonresident driver to consent to the appointment of the registrar as his agent for service of process in the state.


Although a court’s process cannot summon a party domiciled elsewhere to respond to proceedings in that court, and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution safeguards the right of citizens of one state to travel to other states, a state has power to regulate use of its highways by both residents and nonresidents, and can declare that the use of its highways by a nonresident is the equivalent of appointing the registrar as agent for service of process.

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