Jurisdiction

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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The geographic area over which authority extends; legal authority; the authority to hear and determine causes of action.

Jurisdiction generally describes any authority over a certain area or certain persons. In the law, jurisdiction sometimes refers to a particular geographic area containing a defined legal authority. For example, the federal government is a jurisdiction unto itself. Its power spans the entire United States. Each state is also a jurisdiction unto itself, with the power to pass its own laws. Smaller geographic areas, such as counties and cities, are separate jurisdictions to the extent that they have powers that are independent of the federal and state governments.

Jurisdiction also may refer to the origin of a court's authority. A court may be designated either as a court of general jurisdiction or as a court of special jurisdiction. A court of general jurisdiction is a trial court that is empowered to hear all cases that are not specifically reserved for courts of special jurisdiction. A court of special jurisdiction is empowered to hear only certain kinds of cases.

Courts of general jurisdiction are often called district courts or superior courts. In New York State, however, the court of general jurisdiction is called the Supreme Court of New York. In most jurisdictions, other trial courts of special jurisdiction exist apart from the courts of general jurisdiction; some examples are probate, tax, traffic, juvenile, and, in some cities, DRUG COURTS. At the federal level, the district courts are courts of general jurisdiction. Federal courts of special jurisdiction include the U.S. TAX COURT and the BANKRUPTCY courts.

Jurisdiction can also be used to define the proper court in which to bring a particular case. In this context, a court has either original or appellate jurisdiction over a case. When the court has original jurisdiction, it is empowered to conduct a trial in the case. When the court has appellate jurisdiction, it may only review the trial court proceedings for error.

Generally, courts of general and special jurisdiction have original jurisdiction over most cases, and appeals courts and the jurisdiction's highest court have appellate jurisdiction, but this is not always the case. For example, under Article III, Section 2, Clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court is a court of appellate jurisdiction. However, under the same clause, that court has original jurisdiction in cases between states. Such cases usually concern disputes over boundaries and waterways.

Finally, jurisdiction refers to the inherent authority of a court to hear a case and to declare a judgment. When a plaintiff seeks to initiate a suit, he or she must determine where to file the complaint. The plaintiff must file suit in a court that has jurisdiction over the case. If the court does not have jurisdiction, the defendant may challenge the suit on that ground, and the suit may be dismissed, or its result may be overturned in a subsequent action by one of the parties in the case.

A plaintiff may file suit in federal court; however, state courts generally have concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means that both the state and federal court have jurisdiction over the matter.

If a claim can be filed in either state or federal court, and the plaintiff files the claim in state court, the defendant may remove the case to federal court (28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1441 et seq.). This is a tactical decision. Federal court proceedings are widely considered to be less susceptible to bias because the jury pool is drawn from the entire state, not just from the local community.

State courts have concurrent jurisdiction in most cases. Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction in a limited number of cases, such as federal criminal, antitrust, bankruptcy, patent, COPYRIGHT, and some ADMIRALTY cases, as well as suits against the U.S. government.

Under federal and state laws and court rules, a court may exercise its inherent authority only if it has two types of jurisdiction: personal and subject matter. PERSONAL JURISDICTION is the authority that a court has over the parties in the case. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION is a court's authority over the particular claim or controversy.

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State Civil Court Jurisdiction

Personal Jurisdiction Personal jurisdiction is based on territorial concepts. That is, a court can gain personal jurisdiction over a party only if the party has a connection to the geographic area in which the court sits. Traditionally, this connection was satisfied only by the presence of the defendant in the state where the court sat. Since the late nineteenth century, notions of personal jurisdiction have expanded beyond territorial concepts, and courts may gain personal jurisdiction over defendants on a number of grounds. However, the territorial basis remains a reliable route to establishing personal jurisdiction.

A person who has a civil claim may file suit in a court that is located in his or her home state. If the defendant lives in the same state, the court will have no trouble gaining personal jurisdiction. The plaintiff must simply serve the defendant with a summons and a copy of the complaint that was filed with the court. Once this is accomplished, the court has personal jurisdiction over both the plaintiff and the defendant. If the defendant...

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