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How To Determine Your Case’s Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is the limited area of power a court has in the justice system. Limited power among courts helps ensure fairness and balance in the system. In any case you file or have filed against you, you will have to know if you need to file in a federal or state court. You need to know who has jurisdiction so that your case does not get dismissed or delayed due to reassignment or confusion. Here is how you know if you file suit in a federal or state court.

There are Two Types of Jurisdicition:

  • Personal Jurisdiction—the court has power over the parties involved in a lawsuit
  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction—the court has the power to hear the type of case

State court jurisdiction is governed by personal jurisdiction while we use subject matter jurisdiction to determine if a federal court will hear your case. Here are the circumstances under which a case has jurisdiction in a federal court or a state court.

Federal Courts Have Jurisdiction In Two Instances:

Cases filed under a federal law are federal lawsuits due to subject matter jurisdiction—If you sue a defendant because of their breach of a federal law, then you would file suit under a federal court. These include a defendant who has breached the Civil Rights Act, patent rights, federal antitrust laws, or voting rights. If you are filing suit against a defendant based on a breach of a state law, you will file in a state court.

Cases filed between two parties of diverse citizenship with damages over $75,000 are federal cases regardless of subject matter—If you are trying to sue someone who is a citizen in a different state or country for more than $75,000 then the case will have to be filed in a federal court regardless of the subject matter. For example, if you live in Texas and want to sue a corporation based out of North Carolina for more than $75,000, you will have to file suit in a Federal courts (unless the corporation has connections or performs activity in Texas too). If the case involved to citizens of the same residence or was less than $75,000, you would file in the appropriate state court, but how do you know when a state court has jurisdiction?

State Courts and Personal Jurisdiction

An almost universal rule of personal jurisdiction is that state courts have power over all the people who are citizens or do business in that court’s state. If your case is not being filed under a federal law and the defendant is a resident in the same state you are living in, then you will file suit in a state court. However, some instances involving non-citizens will still have jurisdiction in the state court where the suit is filed:

  • An out of state non-citizen can be sued by in the state courts if he or she is served with court documents (a summons and complaint) while in the state, even if for a short stay. Nolo’s legal encyclopedia refers to this as a child’s game of Tag. While the non-citizen defendant is in the state, you find her or him, hand the papers over (tag you’re it!) and then her or she has to go to court in your state.
  • If the defendant caused a traffic accident that lead to a trial, courts have “motorist” statutes that give court’s jurisdiction even over non-citizens.
  • If the defendant is a non-citizen and has some contact or performs some activity within the state, a state court can decide if it’s “fair” to file suit against them. This will normally happen in a few common instances. If the defendant is:
    • a business with a headquarters in another state that maintains a branch, office, or sends mail order catalogs to a state where the suit is filed
    • an individual who is a citizen of another state but solicits business by phone calls to customer or publishing advertisement in the state where the suit is filed
    • an internet service provider that is a citizen of another state but does business with paid subscribers in the state the suit is filed

If the defendant is a non-citizen, does not have contacts, nor perform activity in the state of the plaintiff but is still liable or guilty of the accusations by the plaintiff, the court with jurisdiction will either be the defendant’s state of citizenship or through a federal court when the damages exceed $75,000.

Determining jurisdiction can be a complicated process. When you bring us your case, we will go through every option you have to get the utmost compensation you deserve, Call us and we will make sure that your case is handled correctly and in the right jurisdiction.