Attachment of property within reach of the court’s jurisdiction gives the court authority over the defendant to the extent of that property’s value even if the court cannot reach the defendant personally. For example, a court must have some connection with the defendant in order to require that person to appear and defend himself or herself in an action before that court.
A variety of different facts are sufficient to give the court jurisdiction over the defendant’s person; for example, the defendant’s residence within the state, the defendant’s commission of a wrongful act within the state, or the defendant’s doing business within the state.
If none of these kinds of facts exist to give the court jurisdiction over the defendant’s person, the court may nevertheless assert its authority over property that the defendant owns within the state. In such a case, the plaintiff cannot recover a monetary judgment for an amount larger than the value of the property nor can the individual reach the defendant’s property outside the state, but this sort of jurisdiction, called jurisdiction in rem or quasi in rem, may be the best the plaintiff can get. Before the court can exercise jurisdiction over the property, the plaintiff must obtain a writ of attachment to bring it into custody of the court.
Attachment may also be a provisional remedy, that is, relief that temporarily offers the plaintiff some security while pursuing a final judgment in the lawsuit. For example, a plaintiff who has good reason to believe that the person he or she is suing is about to pack up and leave the state will want the court to prevent this until the plaintiff has a chance to win the action and collect on the judgment. The plaintiff can apply for an order of attachment that brings the property into the custody of the court and takes away the defendant’s right to remove it or dispose of it.