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Jurisdiction

State Civil Court Jurisdiction, Federal Civil Court Jurisdiction, State And Federal Criminal Court JurisdictionVenue

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.

Venue

Venue is similar to, but separate from, jurisdiction. The venue of a case is the physical location of the courthouse in which the case is tried. If more than one court has both subject matter and personal jurisdiction over a case, the court that first receives the case can send the case, upon request of one of the parties, to a court in another jurisdiction. Unlike jurisdiction, venue does not involve a determination of a court's inherent authority to hear a case.

FURTHER READINGS

Meslar, Roger W., ed. 1990. Legalines Civil Procedure. 3d ed. Chicago, Ill.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Legal and Professional Publications.

Wildasin, Mark H., and Richard A. Jones. 2001. "Internet Jurisdiction." Journal of Internet Law (December).

CROSS-REFERENCES

Diversity of Citizenship.

Additional topics

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