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

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subject matter:

1. The issue presented for consideration; the thing in which a right or duty has been asserted; the thing in dispute.

2. PATENTABLE SUBJECT MATTER. — Sometimes written (as ‘a noun) subject-matter:  See SUBJECT (2); CORPUS (1). – subject-matter, adj. [1]

1. That which is the subject of a lawsuit, statute, contract, trust, etc. [2]

subject-matter jurisdiction:

1. Jurisdiction over the nature of the case and the type of relief sought; the extent to which a court can rule on the conduct of persons or the status of things. — aka jurisdiction of the subject matter; jurisdiction of the cause; jurisdiction over the action; jurisdiction ratione materiae. [1]

1. The jurisdiction of a court to hear and determine the type of case before it.  EXAMPLE: the jurisdiction of a family court to try cases involving matters of family law. [2]

    Subject-matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter.  For instance, bankruptcy court only has the authority to hear bankruptcy cases.

     Subject-matter jurisdiction must be distinguished from personal jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to render a judgment against a particular defendant, and territorial jurisdiction, which is the power of the court to render a judgment concerning events that have occurred within a well-defined territory. Unlike personal or territorial jurisdiction, lack of subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be waived. A judgment from a court that did not have subject-matter jurisdiction is forever a nullity. [2] [3]

Related Terms:

in rem jurisdiction – a court’s power to adjudicate the rights to a given piece of property (i.e. action to quiet title; civil forfeiture) as opposed to the rights of a person.


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

[2]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[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.”)


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