Personal Jurisdiction

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The power of a court to hear and determine a lawsuit involving a defendant by virtue of the defendant's having some contact with the place where the court is located.

Personal jurisdiction, also known as in personam (against the person) jurisdiction, gives a court the authority to make decisions binding on the persons involved in a civil case. Every state has personal jurisdiction over persons within its territory. Conversely, no state can exercise personal jurisdiction and authority over persons outside its territory unless the persons have manifested some contact with the state.

The authority of the court to issue orders to persons present within the territory comes from the sovereign power of the government. The court's authority allows it to reach all residents of a state, including those who are outside the state for a short period and out-of-state residents who enter the state even briefly.

Deciding whether an individual is within the personal jurisdiction of a court has not been difficult to determine. Difficulty has arisen when courts have had to decide whether corporations were subject to personal jurisdiction. Corporations have a legal existence and a legal identity but not a tangible existence. They are subject to lawsuits involving TORT and contract. As corporations became national economic entities, the courts of a state had difficulty finding personal jurisdiction if the corporation was not located within that state.

Courts established that a corporation is always subject to the jurisdiction of the courts in the state where it was incorporated. States also require corporations to file written consents to personal jurisdiction before they can conduct business within the state. Other states require that either the corporation designate an agent to accept legal process (the legal documents initiating a lawsuit) in the state or that the state attorney general be authorized to accept process for all out-of-state corporations doing business within the state.

In 1945 the U.S. Supreme Court modernized personal jurisdiction requirements when it announced the "minimum contacts" test in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 66 S. Ct. 154, 90 L. Ed. 95. The Court held that courts could constitutionally exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the defendant had sufficient contacts with the state

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such that forcing the person to litigate in that forum did not offend...

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