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What is Specific Jurisdiction?

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  • Written By: Jan Hill
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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Specific jurisdiction refers to the power a certain court may have to hear a case. A court typically has specific jurisdiction when the defendant in a court action has had certain "minimum contacts" within the specific area, even if he does reside or do all of his business there. The defendant in the case could be an individual or a business. Specific jurisdiction may also apply when the issues of the case have arisen from the defendant's minimum contacts.

The minimum contacts rule generally applies when the defendant has enough contact with the area in which the lawsuit is filed for the judge to decide that it is fair for the court to exercise power over him. This may apply in cases where the defendant has had a small, but significant, amount of activity in the area in which the lawsuit is filed, and the case involves a dispute surrounding that activity. A court may have specific jurisdiction through the minimum contacts rule in a variety of circumstances.

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One instance might include when a business has its headquarters in one area and a branch office or store in the area where the lawsuit is filed. When a business headquartered in one area sends catalogs or brochures into the state where the action is filed, this may constitute minimum contacts, provided the court action involves the contacts. When an individual who is a citizen of a separate region solicits business by making phone calls to customers or publishing advertisements in the area in which the suit is filed, the minimum contacts rule may apply. Internet service providers who do business with paid subscribers or take orders from customers who live in the area where the case is pending may also be subject to specific jurisdiction.

A minimum contacts claim is stronger when it relates directly to the purpose of the contacts, such as a dispute over an item bought from a local store whose parent company is located in another area. If the claim against the defendant arises from a separate problem that has nothing to do with the item in dispute, specific jurisdiction may not apply. The suit may be dismissed at the defendant's request.

Specific jurisdiction may also apply if a defendant owns property in the area where the case is filed, even if he does not live there. This jurisdiction is usually limited according to the fair market value of the property owned by the defendant, and whether or not the claim relates to the property. If it does not, the local court will probably not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute.

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