“Jurisdiction” – & Related Definitions

Definition of JURISDICTION:

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>. – Also termed (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” below).  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 of JURISDICTION:

“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.


(1820) 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. – Also termed in personam jurisdiction; jurisdiction in personam; jurisdiction of the person; jurisdiction over the person; jurisdiction ratione personae. See IN PERSONAM. Cf. in rem jurisdiction;  general personal jurisdiction; specific personal jurisdiction.


(1936) 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. – Also termed jurisdiction of the subject matter; jurisdiction of the cause; jurisdiction over the action; jurisdiction ratione materiae.”

     Additional information to help clarify “Subject-Matter Jurisdiction”:

Note: Below represents “what has been established thus far”.  Wild Willpower is simply compiling research & is by no means offering legal advice.  All information throughout this website is being provided via the First Amendment, & is protected by Fair Use Laws:

    “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.[3] [4]

    “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.

Personal Jurisdiction in State Courts:

     In the United States, many state court systems are divided into divisions such as criminal, civil lawfamily, and probate.  A court within any one of those divisions would lack subject-matter jurisdiction to hear a case regarding matters assigned to another division.  Most U.S. state court systems, however, include a superior court that has “general” jurisdiction; that is, it is competent to hear any case over which no other state court has exclusive jurisdiction.  Because the United States federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over a very small percentage of cases, such as copyright disputes, patent disputes, and United States bankruptcy court disputes, state courts have the authority to hear the vast majority of cases.

Personal Jurisdiction in Federal Courts:

     Subject-matter jurisdiction is significantly more limited in United States federal courts. The maximal constitutional bounds of federal courts’ subject-matter jurisdiction are defined by Article III Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts’ actual subject-matter jurisdiction derives from Congressional enabling statutes, such as 28 U.S.C. §§ 13301369 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 14411452. The United States Congress has not extended federal courts’ subject-matter jurisdiction to its constitutional limits. For example, the amount-in-controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1332, not a constitutional restriction. Moreover, Congress could constitutionally overrule the complete-diversity rule in diversity cases.

     By far the most important two categories of federal subject-matter jurisdiction in non-criminal cases are federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction. The enabling statute for federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, provides that the district courts have original jurisdiction in all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. As mentioned before, this jurisdiction is ordinarily not exclusive; states too can hear claims based on federal law. The enabling statute for diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, grants the district courts jurisdiction in an action that meets two basic conditions:

  • Complete diversity requirement. No defendant is a citizen of the same state as any plaintiff.
  • Amount in controversy requirement. The matter in controversy exceeds $75,000.

     Federal courts also have removal jurisdiction, which is the authority to try cases removed by defendants from state courts. The contours of removal jurisdiction are almost identical to those of original jurisdiction.

     According to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a federal court has the authority to dismiss a case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction upon motion of a party or sua sponte, upon its own initiative.[3]

    In federal criminal cases (offenses against the laws of the United States), the federal district courts of the United States have subject matter jurisdiction granted under 18 U.S.C. § 3231.


[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.”)

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