Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The personification theory has declined in acceptance in the United States since the turn of the century. It is now largely discredited, and has been labeled a mere "literary theme" whose disappearance is "to be welcomed. The personification theory maintains vitality, however, because it provides a rationale for concluding that a ship, and not her owner, may be liable--a result many courts find difficult to justify without the theory.

If the personification theory is taken to its logical extreme, the constitutional due process requirement of notice and opportunity to defend is satisfied by pasting a summons to the vessel's bridge. Just who the owner is and whether and how he receives notice of the action is irrelevant under this theory because the "defendant" has been served. Under present standards of due process, the shipowner must be given notice and an opportunity to defend, since he is the real potential loser in an in rem action.

The purpose of this note is to examine the constitutional due process requirement of notice as applied in admiralty in rem proceedings, developments since the early prize cases, and portents of future change.