Jurisdiction Law & Legal Definition


Jurisdiction generally means the power of a court to hear and render a decision in a given situation. There are different categories of jurisdiction; in rem jurisdiction, in personam or personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction, federal or state jurisdiction, original jurisdiction, and pendent jurisdiction are the most commonly discussed.

Personal jurisdiction is jurisdiction over the person. A court has such jurisdiction when the person can reasonably foresee being sued in that court, by maintaining a residence or other contacts such as the regular conduct of business in the area. When a court exercises in rem jurisdiction, it exercises authority over a thing, rather than a person. In a divorce action, the court exercises in rem jurisdiction over the marriage. Subject matter jurisdiction is jurisdiction over the type of claim brought by the plaintiff. For example, a small claims court only has subject matter jurisdiction of claims up to a certain dollar amount. The constitutional power for federal jurisdiction is found in Article III, Section 2, which provides that federal courts shall have jurisdiction over federal questions and suits between diverse parties. Original jurisdiction is the court's authority to hear the claim in the first instance, rather than on appeal. Pendent jurisdiction is the authority of a federal district court to hear a state claim when it shares a common factual basis with the federal claim. Exclusive jurisdiction is authority to hear a claim to the exclusion of other courts. For example, a state law may grant a juvenile court exclusive jurisdiction to hear a claim involving a juvenile breaking a curfew law.