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[Latin, In the thing itself.] A lawsuit against an item of property, not against a person (in personam).
An action in rem is a proceeding that takes no notice of the owner of the property but determines rights in the property that are conclusive against all the world. For example, an action to determine whether certain property illegally imported into the United States ought to be forfeited can be captioned United States v. Thirty-nine Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Cigars. 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. For example, the courts in Kansas may determine rights to a farm in Kansas, but not the ownership of a cannery in Texas. 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.
adj. from the Latin "against or about a thing," referring to a lawsuit or other legal action directed toward property, rather than toward a particular person. Thus, if title to property is the issue, the action is "in rem." The term is important since the location of the property determines which court has jurisdiction, and enforcement of a judgment must be upon the property and does not follow a person. "In rem" is different from "in personam," which is directed toward a particular person. (See: in personam)
in rem‘against a thing’ (as opposed to against a person).
IN REM, remedies. This technical term is used to designate proceedings or
actions instituted against the thing, in contradistinction to personal
actions which are said to be in personam. Proceedings in rem include not
only judgments of property as forfeited, or as prize in the admiralty, or
the English exchequer, but also the decisions of other courts upon the
personal status, or relations of the party, such as marriage, divorce,
bastardy, settlement, or the like. 1 Greenl. Ev. Sec. 525, 541.
2. Courts of admiralty enforce the performance of a contract by seizing into their custody the very subject of hypothecation; for in these case's the parties are not personally bound, and the proceedings are confined to the thing in specie. Bro. Civ. and Adm. Law, 98; and see 2 Gall. R. 200; 3 T. R. 269, 270.
3. There are cases, however, where the remedy is either in personam or in rem. Seamen, for example, may proceed against the ship or cargo for their wages, and this is the most expeditious mode; or they may proceed against the master or owners. 4 Burr. 1944; 2 Bro. C. & A. Law, 396. Vide, generally, 1 Phil. Ev. 254; 1 Stark. Ev. 228; Dane's Ab. h.t.; Serg. Const. Law, 202, 203, 212.