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State and Federal Court Systems

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The American court system is divided up into different systems to better serve the people it is meant to protect. Each branch deals with different types of cases yet they work together in handling these cases. While the Federal system deals with cases handed down directly by the U.S. Constitution the State system deals with their respective state constitutions and the legal issues that they may have separate from the U.S. Constitution.

There may be a question as to which court system is qualified to handle a particular case, Federal or State, and when this question comes up it is a question of subject matter jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the question of whether a particular court has the power or the competence to decide the kind of controversy that is involved (West, 2013). However, subject matter jurisdiction is not an alternative to personal jurisdiction but is considered more of another hurdle to be conquered. Federal jurisdiction is limited in nature unlike that of the state which has jurisdiction over the subject matter of a wider variety of lawsuits.

Federal courts would have the jurisdiction to handle cases based on any federal laws. Example of federal cases would be: Suing a police officer for violating a federal civil right statutes that authorizes civil damages by people who are unlawfully arrested. Under a federal law aimed at eliminating discrimination by business, a civil rights organization sues a restaurant chain for maintaining a policy of discouraging the patronage by members of a specific minority. (Nolo, 2013)

Personal jurisdiction is when a court is being asked to decide a defendant’s rights or obligations concerning the individual. In order for a court to have personal jurisdiction over a defendant, the defendant must have been personally served and the defendant must have at least some contacts with the state in which the court with the state is located (LectLaw, 1995-2013). In addition to that, there are four basic types of personal jurisdiction. Presence, where one must physically be there to accept a summons and/or complaint. Even if you just happen to be in the wrong place at the right time, as long as you personally receive the summons and are properly served you can be sued in that state. Place o business, states that you can be sued in the state in which you have a personal residence or a business established. Consent, you can give consent, plain and simple, for a court to have jurisdiction over you.

Then finally, minimum contacts, which says that a court can have personal jurisdiction over you if you have enough interaction with a state to justify having personal jurisdiction. (Rueters, 2013) For example, (In Rem Jurisdiction) if a couple is married and together in Texas and then one moves away to another state and files for a divorce, the state in which the one filing now lives may not make any decisions regarding the dividing of personal belongings. Texas, the state in which the couple resided together and the state in which they both have personal contacts is the state that they would file for the dividing of their personal belongings. It may not make this process any easier but this is how it would be handled, legally.

Personal jurisdiction refers to 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 (USLegal, 2010-13). In 1945, a “minimum contacts” test was announced by the US Supreme court in the International Shoe Company v. Washington case to establish personal jurisdiction of a corporation. For a court to have personal jurisdiction it must first decide if an individual meets the “minimum contacts” out of the state party. There are two separate requirements for a court to assume personal jurisdiction over an out of state defendant: Firstly, the state must have statutory authority that grants the court jurisdiction over the out of state defendant. Secondly, the Due Process Clause of the Constitution must be satisfied. In some cases the Supreme Court has limited the extent of state statutory authority because there has been a violation of the constitutional due process. (Kesan, n/a)

Once a case has been set forth and the question of personal jurisdiction has been settled there are three types of personal jurisdiction that it must fall into. These types are: I. In Personam Jurisdiction- A court having personal jurisdiction can exercise powers over the person of a particular defendant (USLegal, 2010-13). If the “minimum contact” clause can be satisfied in a case between two people, one living in Nebraska and one living in North Dakota, then The person living in North Dakota may sue the person living in Nebraska. II. In Rem Jurisdiction- A court having in rem jurisdiction will have the power to adjudicate the rights of all persons with respect to a particular item of property. However, to exercise in rem jurisdiction, the property must generally be located within physical boundaries of the state (USLegal, 2010-13). III. Quasi-in-rem Jurisdiction- A court having quasi in rem jurisdiction will have the ability to determine whether particular individuals own specific property within the court’s control.

The court can adjudicate disputes other than ownership based upon the presence of the defendant’s property in the forum (USLegal, 2010-13). An example of this may be if two people are involved in an accident in Mississippi, where Bob is a resident. Sally, a resident of Alabama, sues Bob. Because Bob is not a resident of Alabama they have no personal jurisdiction over him, but suppose he happened to own a little piece of land in Alabama, not the courts may place jurisdiction over his land. In this case they would say to Bob, “Appear in court or we will seize your property and use it to pay off Sally’s lawsuits against you.” This is both legal and possible. For any of these types to be decided and for courts to proceed both parties involved must be get fair and adequate notice of the action and the the constitutional limitations must also specify that though a state may not exceed the boundaries set by the constitution, it is also not required to reach the full extent of constitutional power.

Federal court will only hear two types of cases. One, those in which the United States is a party. Two, cases that are based on state laws that are involving parties of different states. Examples of cases that may have the United States as a party would be cases where the Constitution or federal law has been violated, cases involving crimes that have happened on federal land, and bankruptcy (generally that of a big company like GM) cases. Each of those cases would be heard by a federal court, yet not all of them will be as public as the next.. Though the Federal courts do hear fewer cases each year than that of the state, the cases that the Federal court handles tend to be more public and of greater interest to the people. (Lyublanovits, 2013)


Kesan, J. (n/a). Personal jurisdiction in cyberspace: brief summary of personal jurisdiction law. Retrieved from http://www.cyberspacelaw.org/kesan/kesan1.html LectLaw. (1995-2013). Legal definition of personal jurisdiction. Retrieved from http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/p211.htm Lyublanovits, J. (2013). Faq. Retrieved from http://www.flnd.uscourts.gov/FAQ/index.cfm?qid=81&catid=2 Nolo. (2013). Subject matter jurisdiction: Should i file in federal or state court?. Retrieved from http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/subject-matter-jurisdiction-state-federal-29884.html Rueters, T. (2013). Personal jurisdiction: how to determine where a person can be sued. Retrieved from http://litigation.findlaw.com/filing-a-lawsuit/personal-jurisdiction-how-to-determine-

U.S. Courts. (2013). Why two court systems?. Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-
resources/get-informed/federal-court-basics/why-two-courts-systems.aspx USLegal. (2010-2013). personal jurisdiction in federal court. Retrieved from http://civilprocedure.uslegal.com/jurisdiction/personal-jurisdiction/personal-jurisdiction-in-

USLegal. (2010-2013). Types of personal jurisdiction. Retrieved from http://civilprocedure.uslegal.com/jurisdiction/personal-jurisdiction/types-of-personal-jurisdiction/ West. (2013). Subject matter jurisdiction. Retrieved from http://www.west.net/~smith/smjuris.htm

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