Not all courts can hear all cases. Make sure you file your lawsuit in the right court.
This is part of my Legal Self Defense series, designed to provide those who went to public school with a short, concise, easy to digest overview of how to access the law. For more information, see the introduction.
The Power to Enter a Binding Judgment
The purpose of taking someone to civil court is to get a binding (valid and enforceable) judgment against them for the harm they have caused you.
In order for a court to have such power, it must have two things:
- Personal Jurisdiction - The right to exercise power over the parties involved
- Subject Matter Jurisdiction - The right to rule on the issues at hand
If a court lacks either of these, it does not have the power to issue a binding judgment against the defendant (or the plaintiff).
To acquire personal jurisdiction over the parties, it must be established that each party had certain minimal contacts with the territory that the court has power to rule in.
While this can get complicated when dealing with people from other nations or states, if both parties live in the same general area (e.g. county or town) then this usually fairly easy to establish.
Personal Jurisdiction is able to be waived
You can volunteer into the jurisdiction of the court.
If the defendant does not file a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and instead files an answer or counter claim, then the defendant is presumed to have submitted to the personal jurisdiction of the court.
For this reason, if the court lacks personal jurisdiction in a case against you, be sure to challenge it immediately. Do not file an Answer. Do not file a Counter Claim. Do not file anything unrelated to challenging jurisdiction or you will be presumed to have submitted to the courts jurisdiction.
After all, how can you claim the court has no jurisdiction and then continue on with the lawsuit?
See Personal Jurisdiction on lawnix.com for more information.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
For a court to have subject matter jurisdiction, it must have power to hear the type of claim being brought before it.
Subject matter jurisdiction is not able to be waived, meaning that even if a defendant fails to file a motion to dismiss for subject matter jurisdiction and you eventually win the lawsuit, any judgment issued against the defendant will be invalid and unenforceable... and the defendant can use process to have the judgment declared a nullity retroactively.
Courts should dismiss a case if they lack subject matter jurisdiction.
See Subject matter jurisdiction on law.cornell.edu for more information.
Establishing Jurisdiction of the Court
To establish the jurisdiction of the court, you need to make jurisdictional allegations in your initial complaint.
These will detail:
- Why the court has personal jurisdiction over you
- Why the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant
- Why the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case
The next article in this series will cover how to write a Complaint properly.
- I am not a lawyer, I have simply studied law for many years
- This is not legal advice, it is simply my opinion on how things work
- Use this information at your own peril. Be sure to prove what I say to yourself
About this article
This is part of my Legal Self Defense series. Read the introduction for more information.
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Be well! @tony.jennings