Encyclopedia > Jurisdiction

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Jurisdiction has several meanings. It is the power of a court to hear and decide a case before it. It is also used to distinguish between different nation-states in private international law or of the various provinces or states in federations such as the United States or Canada.

In most common law systems, jurisdiction is conceptually divided between jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case and jurisdiction over the litigants.

A court whose subject-matter jurisdiction is limited to certain types of controversies (examples: suits in admiralty; suits where the monetary amount sought is less than a specified sum) is sometimes referred to as a court of special jurisdiction or court of limited jurisdiction. A court whose subject-matter is not limited to certain types of controversy is referred to as a court of general jurisdiction.

In contrast to the idea of subject-matter jurisdiction, which defines what types of controversies a court may hear, the concept of personal jurisdiction refers to the power of a court's rulings to bind the litigants. Personal jurisdiction over a defendant is usually obtained by service of legal process, by personal delivery of the summons of the court to the person, or an authorized agent of the person or a person of suitable age and discretion at the resident or place of business where the person can be found. Jurisdiction over corporations can often be obtained through a government body authorized to receive such process. In some juridictions the Clerk of the Court may be authorized to accept legal process for persons who cannot otherwise be found. In the United States there are statutes that govern obtaining jurisdiction over out of state motorists who are involved in accidents within a state as long as the plaintiff has the license plate number of the car and its state of origin.

Sometimes a court may only have jurisdiction over property located within the perimeter of its powers, this is called "in rem" jurisdiction. Often with defendants who are outside the state there are provisions for "long arm jurisdiction" based upon the foreign business entity or individual doing business within the state with the plaintiff or by other minimal contacts with the state.

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