The authority of a court to hear a given case and render judgment is usually referred to as jurisdiction and normally takes on a number of forms. These jurisdictions range from territorial jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction to subject matter jurisdiction amongst others. Personal jurisdiction refers to the authority or power of a court to hear cases and render judgments against individuals. On the other hand, subject matter jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear and determine lawsuits on a particular area of the law, in that it decides on cases of a particular type. A good example of such a court would be the bankruptcy court, designed to hear cases on bankruptcy. Jurisdiction therefore, is simply a determination of the type of cases a court can hear (Williams, 1963).
Of all the jurisdictions, perhaps the most complicated is that of personal jurisdiction, as a number of factors usually affect the authority a court may have over an individual. These issues include the individual’s area of residence, as well as the subject area upon which the dispute has arisen. Personal jurisdiction in federal courts is usually determined and governed by rule number 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states that federal courts ought to follow personal jurisdiction laws in force within the state courts in which the federal courts operate (Garner, 2006). However, when dealing with defendants from different states, the laws allow for the application of the state long arm statutes. Furthermore, in cases in which the lawsuits can only be brought before a federal law court, such as cases concerning anti-trust laws, or federal securities, the courts are usually at liberty to try any defendant, regardless of whether or not they fall within the territorial jurisdiction of the court.
There are three types of personal jurisdiction: In personam jurisdiction, In Rem jurisdiction, and quasi in-rem jurisdiction. In the case of In Personam Jurisdiction, the courts usually have power over the person of the individual involved in the case. This type of jurisdiction usually encompasses physical presence within the forum state, domicile presence within the state (residence within the state), consent through contractual agreements, implied consent or through voluntary appearance. Finally, this type of jurisdiction also covers the application of long arm statutes (Kanovitz, J. & kanovitz M., 2008)
For In Rem Jurisdiction the courts usually have the power to adjudicate over an individual’s rights regarding a given item of property in addition to having rights over property located within the physical boundaries of the state. This type of jurisdiction assumes that status or property is the object of action or concern.
When it comes to quasi in-rem jurisdiction, jurisdiction is only asserted when the minimum contact in question satisfies the requirements usually applicable in cases of in personam jurisdiction. This type of jurisdiction only applies to the property the individual possesses within the state in question, even if there is no jurisdiction over the individual (Gross 2005).
Federal courts usually hear two types of cases: criminal and civil cases. The former refers to cases in which the safety, health or moral welfare of the common population is threatened through a given crime (Fletcher, 1998). The latter on the other hand, encompasses disputes between organizations or individuals. A good example of a criminal case would be murder, while a good example of a civil case, would be a case in which an individual sues for defamation or libel (Yeazell, 2008). Most importantly, the main difference between the two types of cases, in the aim or goal of the court: while in civil cases the courts usually seek redress, the main aim in criminal cases is usually to punish. The procedures in place for these two types of cases also differ, with the penalties associated with criminal cases being fines, jail time, or both, while in the case of the former they are mostly damages (Hart, 1968).
Fletcher, P. (1998). Basic Concepts of Criminal Law. Oxford University Press.
Garner, B. (2006). Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul, MN: Thompson/West.
Gross, H. (2005). A Theory of Criminal Justice. Oxford University Press.
Hart, H.L.A. (1968). Punishment and Responsibility. Oxford University Press.
Kanovitz, J. R. and Kanovitz, M. I. (2008). Constitutional Law (11th ed.). Matthew Bender and Company, Inc. Newark, NJ. 694-697 .
Williams, G. (1983). Textbook of Criminal Law. Stevens & Sons.
Yeazell, S. (2008). Civil Procedure (7th Ed. ed.). Aspen Publishers.