Prior to filing a lawsuit on behalf of a client, the attorney must determine the most appropriate place to file the lawsuit. Whether the case can be heard in state court, and which state, or whether it must be heard in federal court is often an early point of contention between plaintiff’s counsel and the defendant’s counsel.
Both sides will have their preference based on their perceived advantage in which court hears the case. But ultimately it is up to the court if they can hear the case. In order to hear a case, a court must have the authority over the legal matters at issue in the case, subject jurisdiction, and the court must also have authority over the parties in the case, personal jurisdiction.
In the 2014 landmark decision, Daimler AG v. Bauman, the U.S. Supreme Court added substantial challenges to securing the best jurisdiction for plaintiffs’ cases, particularly aviation accident cases. Daimler is likely the final step in the trend in personal jurisdiction analysis favoring specific over general jurisdiction. To learn more about the impact of Daimler AG v. Bauman, read the Kreindler attorney article, Jurisdiction After Daimler AG v. Bauman, by Justin Green and Steve Pounian.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or relating to a particular subject matter. Federal courts, for example, are courts of limited jurisdiction, and can only hear cases relating to federal questions or where the parties are from different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
Personal jurisdiction requires that the court have the authority over the parties in the litigation and generally requires that the court ether have general jurisdiction and/or specific jurisdiction based on the circumstances.
The court will have general jurisdiction when:
1. Plaintiff sues the defendant in the defendant’s home jurisdiction
2. Geographic location in which the defendant is incorporated or has its principal place of business or does such extensive business that it can fairly be considered the defendant’s home.
Where the court has general jurisdiction over the defendant the case need not arise of the defendant’s contacts with the jurisdiction. For example, a pilot who lives in Illinois can be sued in Illinois even if the case involves negligence and an accident that occurred outside of Illinois.
The court will generally have specific jurisdiction where the case arises from or relates to the defendant’s contacts with the state. For example, a pilot who does not live in Illinois can be sued in Illinois if he or she is negligent in Illinois and causes and accident to take place in Illinois.