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The Jurisdiction of a Federal Court

Jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear and decide a case. A federal court’s authority to hear a specific case comes from the United States Constitution and federal laws. It is necessary for a federal court to have both subject matter jurisdiction (power over the legal matter involved in the case) and personal jurisdiction (power over the parties to the lawsuit) for the court to make a legally binding decision in a case.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A federal court can hear legal disputes involving the United States Constitution, federal laws, and treaties (federal question jurisdiction). A federal court can also hear disputes between two states or cases involving citizens of two different states (diversity jurisdiction). The amount in controversy or amount of damages sought in a diversity suit has to exceed $ 75,000 for a federal court to be able to hear the case. Certain types of cases, such as bankruptcy and admiralty, may be heard only by federal courts.

Personal Jurisdiction

In addition to subject matter jurisdiction, a federal court must have personal jurisdiction over the parties to a lawsuit for the court’s decision to bind the parties. The personal jurisdiction of a federal court is usually parallel with the personal jurisdiction of the state courts where the federal court is located. Laws and court rules also allow a federal court to have personal jurisdiction nationwide in certain situations.

Service of Process

Personal jurisdiction over a defendant (a person or a company defending a lawsuit) is obtained by service of process. The person or company is given notice that a lawsuit has been filed. Notice can be given in several ways. Notice of the lawsuit can be personally served on the defendant. In some situations, the notice can be mailed to the defendant or published in the newspaper.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.