Legal Maxim

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Literal Meaning

Against a particular person




A proceeding in personam is a case demanding a judgment which is clearly enforceable against an individual. An action in personam can impact the rights and interests of the defendant. In a lawsuit which is against a specific individual, that person must be served with a summons and the judgment pronounced applies only to that person and is called an ‘in personam judgment’.

In personam proceedings are distinguished from in rem proceedings, in which the latter refers not only to a single person but to properties or ‘all the earth’. This legal differentiation is crucial while deciding when a case should be initiated and how to serve a defendant. In general, in rem rights are property rights enforceable against the entire world (such as property rights) whereas an in personam judgment binds only the litigants.

An in personam claim only determines the rights between the respective parties to the action and does not affect the rights of any other third party. Thus, a right in personam can only be asserted against a party to the dispute. Any order issued by a judge when both subject-matter jurisdiction and in personam jurisdiction has not been properly conferred is void, of no legal force or effect.


A complainant may bring a suit against a defendant in personam for violation of a contract. The complainant must establish that the court has both substantive authorities over the defendant and subject-matter authority to preside over the case in order to pursue an in personam action against a defendant. For an in personam case, the decision includes only the parties.

An in personam right is a personal right attached to a specific person, such as contract rights, a tort award against a defendant, or a license.

Case Laws

In M.V. Elisabeth And Ors vs. Harwan Investment and Trading, the Supreme Court held that “A defendant in an admiralty action in personam is liable for the full amount of the plaintiff’s established claim. Likewise, a defendant acknowledging service in an action in rem is liable to be saddled with full liability even when the amount of the judgment exceeds the value of the res or of the bail provided.”

In R. Viswanathan vs. Rukn-Ul-Mulk Syed Abdul Wajid, the Supreme Court of India held that “In an action in personam the court has jurisdiction to make an order for delivery of movables’ where the parties submit to the jurisdiction. A person who institutes a suit in a foreign court and claims a decree in personam cannot after the judgment is pronounced against him, say that the court had no jurisdiction which he invoked and which the court exercised, for it is well recognized that a party who is present within or who had submitted to jurisdiction cannot after wards question it.”

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