Jurisdiction – a gov’t’s power to exercise authority over all persons and things within its territory, and a court’s power to decide a case or issue a decree


     If a court lacks jurisdiction (described below), it may be that the case was taken before the wrong courthouse (“improper venue“); the case may then be dismissed via a Motion to Dismiss or the venue can be transferred via a Motion to Transfer Venue.

improper venue:

1. A place or court where jurisdiction is not authorized under a statute or by agreement of the parties.

n. (14c)

l. A government’s general power to exercise authority over all persons and things within its territory; especially, a state’s power to create interests that will be recognized under common-law principles as valid in other states <New Jersey’s jurisdiction>.

2. A court’s power to decide a case or issue a decree <the constitutional grant of federal-question jurisdiction>. — aka (in Sense 2) competent jurisdiction; (in both senses) coram judice; adjudicatory jurisdiction. [1]

    The following excerpt from James Fleming, Jr,Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., & John Leubsdorf’s Civil Procedure:

     “Rules of jurisdiction in a sense speak from a position outside the court system and prescribe the authority of the courts within the system.  They are to a large extent constitutional rules.  The provisions of the U.S. Constitution specify the outer limits of the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts and authorize Congress, within those limits, to establish by statute the organization and jurisdiction of the federal courts.  Thus, Article III of the Constitution defines the judicial power of the United States to include cases arising under federal law and cases between parties of diverse state citizenship as well as other categories.  The U.S. Constitution, particularly the Due Process Clause, also establishes limits on the jurisdiction of the state courts.  These due process limitations traditionally operate in two areas: jurisdiction of the subject matter and jurisdiction over persons (see personal jurisdiction).  Within each state, the court system is established by state constitutional provisions or by a combination of such provisions and implementing legislation, which together define the authority of the various courts within the system.” [2]

(third definition)

3. A geographic area within which political or judicial authority may be exercised <the accused fled to another jurisdiction>.

4. A political or judicial subdivision within such an area <other jurisdictions have decided the issue differently>. Cf. VENUE (1), (2). – jurisdictional – adj.”

Various Forms of Jurisdiction:

    To decide a case, a court must have a combination of subject (subjectam) and either personal (personam) or territorial (locum) jurisdiction.

    Subject-matter jurisdiction, personal or territorial jurisdiction, and adequate notice are the three most fundamental constitutional requirements for a valid judgment. [3]

Original Jurisdiction – a court’s power to hear and decide a matter before any other court can review the matter.

Appellate Jurisdiction – the power of a court to review and revise a lower court’s decision.

Personal Jurisdiction – a court’s power to bring a person into its adjudicative process; jurisdiction over a defendant’s personal rights rather than merely over property interests.

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction – jurisdiction over the nature of the case (the material which is the subject of a lawsuit) and the type of relief sought 

Territorial Jurisdiction – jurisdiction over cases arising in or involving persons residing within a defined territory.

in rem Jurisdiction – a legal action brought against property (i.e. action to quiet title; civil forfeiture) as opposed to an action brought against the person.

Federal Court Jurisdiction:

     Generally, only two types of cases can be heard in federal court cases involving a federal question and involving diversity of citizenship of the parties.

Federal-Question Jurisdiction – the exercise of federal-court power over claims arising under the U.S. Constitution, an act of Congress, or a treaty.

Diversity Jurisdiction – the jurisdiction of a federal court over all civil actions involving diversity of citizenship (wherein the parties involved are from different states (or foreign states)) and the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.


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[1]: All definitions from: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: James Fleming, Jr,Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., & John Leubsdorf’s Civil Procedure 5 2.1 , at 55 (5th ed. 2001).

[3]: “Rhode Island vs. Massachusetts, 37 U.S. 657 (1838)”. Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 3 July2017. (“However late this objection has been made, or may be made in any cause, in an inferior or appellate court of the United States, it must be considered and decided, before any court can move one further step in the cause; as any movement is necessarily the exercise of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the power to hear and determine the subject matter in controversy between parties to a suit, to adjudicate or exercise any judicial power over them; the question is, whether on the case before a court, their action is judicial or extra-judicial; with or without the authority of law, to render a judgment or decree upon the rights of the litigant parties.”)

[4]: Joyce v. United States, 474 F.2d 215 (3d Cir.1973)”. Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 3 July 2017. (“Where there is no jurisdiction over the subject matter, there is, as well, no discretion to ignore that lack of jurisdiction.”)


Back to All Legal Term Definitions

Intro to U.S. Law

Legal Precepts Adopted (from Europe) into The U.S. Constitution

§ § of Law Embedded into the Constitution Pursuant to the American Revolution

Indian Country Law

Federal Rules of Procedure

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