This entry contains information applicable to United States law only.
The power of a court to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings inquestion belong.
For a court to have authority to adjudicate a dispute, it must have jurisdictionover the parties and over the type of legal issues in dispute. The first type of jurisdiction is called personal jurisdiction; the other is subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction will be found if the persons involved in the litigationare present in the state or are legal residents of the state in which the lawsuit has been filed, or if thetransaction in question has a substantial connection to the state.Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the nature of the claim or controversy. The subject matter may be acriminal infringement, medical malpractice, or the probating of an estate. Subject matter jurisdiction isthe power of a court to hear particular types of cases. In state court systems, statutes that createdifferent courts generally set boundaries on their subject matter jurisdiction. One state court or another has subject matter jurisdiction of any controversy that can be heard in courts of that state. Some courtsspecialize in a particular area of the law, such as probatelaw, family law, or juvenile law. A person who
seeks custody of a child, for example, must go to a court that has authority in guardianship matters. Adivorcecan be granted only in a court designated to hear matrimonial cases. A person charged with afelonycannot be tried in a criminal court authorized to hear onlymisdemeanor cases.
In addition to the legal issue in dispute, the subject matter jurisdiction of a court may be determined bythe monetary value of the dispute — the dollar amount in controversy. Small claims courts, also knownasconciliationcourts, are limited by state statutes to small amounts of money in controversy, rangingfrom $1,000 to $5,000 depending upon the state. Therefore, if a plaintiff sues a defendant in smallclaims court for $50,000, the court will reject the lawsuit because it lacks subject matter jurisdiction based on the amount in controversy. The amount in controversy limitations are designed to regulate theflow of litigation in the various courts of the state, ensuring that complicated disputes over large sumsof money will be heard in courts that have the time and resources to hear such cases.The U.S. Constitution gives jurisdiction over some types of cases tofederal courts only. Cases
involvingambassadors and consulsor public ministers, admiralty and maritime cases, and cases inwhich the United States is a party must be heard in federal courts. Congress has also created subjectmatter jurisdiction by statute, mandating that antitrust suits, mostsecuritieslawsuits, bankruptcy
proceedings, and patent andcopyrightcases be heard in federal courts.
The Constitution also allows federal district courts to hear cases involving any rights or obligations thatarise from the Constitution or other federal law. This is calledfederal questionjurisdiction. Federalcourts also have diversity jurisdiction, which gives the courts authority to hear cases involving disputesamong citizens of different states. If, however, the amount in controversy is less than $10,000, federalquestion and diversity jurisdiction will not apply, and the case must be brought in state court. Even if the $10,000 amount is satisfied, a plaintiff may start the lawsuit in state court. A defendant, however,may seek to have the case moved to the federal court in that state by filing a transfer request called a
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