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 lives outside the state, the plaintiff may serve the defendant with the process papers when the defendant appears in the state.
If the defendant lives outside the state and does not plan to re-enter the state, the court may gain personal jurisdiction in other ways. Most states have a LONG-ARM STATUTE. This type of statute allows a state court to gain personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who (1) transacts business within the state, (2) commits a TORT within the state, (3) commits a tort outside the state that causes an injury within the state, or (4) owns, uses, or possesses real property within the state.
The emergence of the INTERNET as a way to communicate ideas and sell products has led to disputes over whether state long-arm statutes can be used to acquire personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. In Zippo Manufacturing v. Zippo Dot Com, 952 F. Supp.1119 (W.D.Pa.1997), a U.S. District Court proposed that a long-arm statute could be used only when the defendant has either actively marketed a product or the web site has a degree of interactivity that suggests the website seeks to do business. Conversely, a passive web site, where information is merely posted, would not subject a person to the reach of a long-arm statute.
In Pavlovich v. Superior Court, 59 Cal.4th 262, 58 P.3d 2, 127 Cal.Rptr.2d 329 (Cal. 2002), the California Supreme Court ruled that an out-of-state web site operator who had posted software that allowed users to decrypt and copy digital versatile discs (DVDs) containing motion pictures could not be sued in California state court. The operator, who lived in Texas, did not solicit business or have any commercial contact with anyone in California. The court relied on the Zippo sliding scale and concluded that Pavlovich fell into the passive category. The web site "merely posts information and has no interactive features. There is no evidence in the record suggesting that the site targeted California. Indeed, there is no evidence that any California resident ever visited, much less downloaded" the software. Even if he had known that the software would encourage PIRACY, this substantive issue did not effect the threshold question of jurisdiction. Therefore, the lawsuit had to be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.
The Minnesota Supreme Court took up the question of Internet jurisdiction in the context of a DEFAMATION lawsuit in Griffis v. Luban, 646 N.W.2d 527 (Minn. 2002). Katherine Griffis, a resident of Alabama, filed a defamation lawsuit against Marianne Luban, a Minnesota resident, in Alabama state court. Griffis won a default judgment of $25,000 for statements that Luban had made on the Internet. Luban elected not to appear in the Alabama proceeding, and Griffis then filed her judgment in the Minnesota county where Luban resided. Luban then filed a lawsuit challenging the judgment for want of personal jurisdiction. The Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that the key jurisdiction question was whether Luban had targeted the state of Alabama when she made her defamatory statements. The Court found that while Luban knew that Griffis lived in Alabama, she had not "expressly aimed" her statements at the state of Alabama. Instead, she had published these statements to a specialized Internet newsgroup, one that only had Griffis as a member from Alabama. The court stated: "The fact that messages posted to the newsgroup could have been read in Alabama, just as they could have been read anywhere in the world, cannot suffice to establish Alabama as the focal point of the defendant's conduct." Therefore, Griffis had not established personal jurisdiction over Luban in Alabama, and the Minnesota state courts were not obliged to enforce the Alabama judgment.
If an out-of-state defendant caused an injury while driving inside the state, the court may gain personal jurisdiction over the defendant on the theory that the defendant consented to such jurisdiction by driving on the state's roads. Many states have statutes that create such IMPLIED CONSENT to personal jurisdiction.
When the defendant is a corporation, it is always subject to personal jurisdiction in the courts of the state in which it is incorporated. If the corporation has sufficient contacts in other states, courts in those states may hold that the out-of-state corporation has consented to personal jurisdiction through its contacts with the state. For example, a corporation that solicits business in other states or maintains offices in other states may be subject to suit in those states, even if the corporation is not headquartered or incorporated in those states. A corporation's transaction of business in a foreign state is a sufficient contact to establish personal jurisdiction.
In actions concerning real property located within the state, state courts may use additional means to gain personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. A state court may gain personal jurisdiction over all parties, regardless of their physical location, in a dispute over the title to real property. This type of personal jurisdiction is called in rem, or "against the thing." Personal jurisdiction over all parties interested in the real property is gained not through the parties but through the presence of the land in the court's jurisdiction.
If a court cannot gain personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant, the plaintiff may be forced to sue the defendant in the state in which the defendant resides or in the state where the injury occurred. For example, a plaintiff who was injured outside his or her home state may have to file suit in the defendant's home state or in the state where the injury occurred if the defendant has no plans to enter the plaintiff's home state.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction Courts of general jurisdiction have subject matter jurisdiction over the majority of civil claims, including actions involving torts, contracts, unpaid debt, and CIVIL RIGHTS violations. Courts of general jurisdiction do not have subject matter jurisdiction over claims or controversies that are reserved for courts of special jurisdiction. For example, in a state that has a probate court, all claims involving wills and estates must be brought in the probate court, not in a court of general jurisdiction.
In some cases, a claim must first be heard by a special administrative board before it can be heard by a court. For example, a WORKERS' COMPENSATION claim in most states must be heard by a workers' compensation board before it can be heard in a court of general jurisdiction.
Another consideration in establishing subject matter jurisdiction is the amount in controversy. This is the total of all claims, counterclaims, and cross-claims in the suit. (A counterclaim is a claim by a defendant against a plaintiff; a cross-claim is a claim by a plaintiff against another plaintiff, or by a defendant against another defendant.) In most jurisdictions, if the amount in controversy does not exceed a certain limit, the case must be heard by a court other than a court of general jurisdiction. This court is usually called a SMALL CLAIMS COURT. The rules in such a court limit the procedures that are available to the parties so that the court can obtain a simple and speedy resolution to the dispute.
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