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Castelline v. Goldfine Truck Rental Service

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 25, 1955

Bernice CASTELLINE and Theresa N. Constantine, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
GOLDFINE TRUCK RENTAL SERVICE, a partnership, Reuben Goldfine, Stanley Goldfine & Leonard Goldfine; Philadelphia Notion & Novelty Co., a corporation of the State of Pennsylvania, and Jerry P. Lane, Defendants Below, Appellees.

Action against nonresidents for injuries sustained in collision involving defendants' motor vehicle. The Superior Court of New Castle County, 107 A.2d 915, rendered judgment quashing the summons, the service, and return thereof and dismissing complaint, and plaintiffs appealed. The Supreme Court, Wolcott, J., held that statute authorizing service of process on Secretary of State in action against nonresident growing out of operation of motor vehicle on highways of state, but requiring that nonresident be given notice of pendency of action by registered mail, satisfies constitutional requirements of due process and does not violate constitutional right of nonresidents to equal protection of the laws.

Judgment reversed and cause remanded with instructions.

Page 841

Aubrey B. Lank and Paul R. Rinard, Wilmington, for appellants.

Stewart Lynch and Alfred R. Fraczkowski, Wilmington, for appellees.

SOUTHERLAND, C. J., and WOLCOTT and BRAMHALL, JJ., sitting.

WOLCOTT, Justice.

The ultimate question presented for decision by this appeal is the constitutionality of 10 Del.C. § 3112, which purports to provide a means by which a non-resident motorist, using Delaware highways, may be subjected to suit in a Delaware court on a cause of action growing out of an accident occurring within Delaware, in which the motor vehicle of the non-resident was involved. [49 Del. 157] The court below held that the statute was unconstitutional as a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the Federal Constitution. 107 A.2d 915. It, accordingly, quashed the service and dismissed the complaint.

The precise factual situation of the cause is not important to the determination of this appeal. It will suffice to state that the plaintiffs were injured as a result of an accident occurring within Delaware, brought suit against the non-residents whose motor vehicle was involved in the accident, and complied with the provisions of 10 Del.C. § 3112 thinking thereby to obtain valid service upon the non-resident defendants.

10 Del.C. § 3112 was enacted on February 12, 1953 as a part of a complete revision and codification of the general statutes of Delaware. The revision now appearing as § 3112 effected some changes in the prior law which, theretofore, appeared as 1935 Code, § 4590. This court, however, held in Monacelli v. Grimes, Del., 99 A.2d 255, 256, that by the adoption of the Code of 1953 the changes in 1935 Code, § 4590, effected by 10 Del.C. § 3112 had been enacted into law. It is these changes which give rise to the present question.

10 Del.C. § 3112, in order to provide a means to sue a non-resident motorist in the courts of Delaware, follows the pattern of comparable statutes in other states-that is, it is provided that by his use of Delaware highways a non-resident shall thereby be deemed to have appointed the Secretary of State of Delaware as his agent for the acceptance of service of process in any civil action growing out of an accident in which the motor vehicle of the non-resident is involved. This method of obtaining service, as distinguished from the giving of notice of the pendency of litigation, has been held valid as a legitimate exercise by the states of their police power, provided the other requirements of due process of law are met. Hess v. Pawloski, 274 U.S. 352, 47 S.Ct. 632, 71 L.Ed. 1091. This fiction was also followed in 1935 Code, § 4590, but with respect to the provision requiring the giving of notice changes were made by the revision of 1953.

[49 Del. 158] The following changes of concern to us in this appeal were made by the codification of 1953:

(1) The former law required that service upon the Secretary of State be made and return thereof filed before notice of the pendency of the action be sent by registered mail to the non-resident, whereas under the present statute notice by registered mail of the pendency of the action must now be sent to the non-resident ‘ not later than the day following the commencement of the action’ .

(2) The former law required that notice to the non-resident inform him that service of process had been completed on the Secretary of State, whereas the present statute requires that such notice be a statement that service has been or will soon be made on the Secretary of State.

There are other matters of difference between the present and prior law but with them we are not concerned. The court below based its holding of unconstitutionality as a violation of Federal due process upon the two provisions concerning ...


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