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Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
Facts of the Case 

Lloyd Henderson, a merchant mariner, was injured while working aboard a United States vessel. After exhausting administrative remedies, Henderson filed a seaman's personal injury action against the United States under the Suits in Admiralty Act. Henderson's complaint was filed close to, but within, the two- year limit set on complaints by the Act. Henderson then followed the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the service of the summons and complaint, or service of process, to the proper authorities. The United States argued that Henderson failed to serve the complaint "forthwith," or without delay. This deprived the court of jurisdiction because "forthwith" service is a prerequisite for the government's waiver of sovereign immunity under the Act. The government's argument prevailed and the federal District Court dismissed Henderson's suit. Henderson lost on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Is service of process under the Suits of Admiralty Act a matter of procedure governed by the uniform Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?

Decision: 6 votes for Henderson, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including Appellate Procedure (or relevant rules of a circuit court)

Yes. In a 6-to-3 opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg contended that process of service was primarily a means to notify another of impending legal action in a way that provides the defendant adequate time to answer and present defenses. The Court held that "[t]he federal rules thus convey a clear message: Complaints are not to be dismissed if served within 120 days, or within such additional time as the court may allow."

Cite this Page
HENDERSON v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_232>.
HENDERSON v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_232 (last visited August 26, 2015).
"HENDERSON v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_95_232.