What is a Special Appearance?

M. Lupica

A special appearance is a concept within the United States Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that allows a person who has been served a summons a chance to appear at a court proceeding with the specific purpose of challenging the extension of personal jurisdiction by the court. By challenging such jurisdiction in a special appearance, the party is challenging the court’s right to hear the case against him or her based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. If the argument made during the special appearance is effective, then the court will have to dismiss the case.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Personal jurisdiction refers to the right of a court to hear a case based on certain qualifications regarding the court and the party in the case. This type of jurisdiction is generally asserted in one of three ways. The first is physical presence at the time of service, generally even if the presence within the jurisdiction is temporary. Second, personal jurisdiction may be asserted if the party lives within the geographic area of the court’s jurisdiction. Last, any party may consent to personal jurisdiction of a court which tries to assert personal jurisdiction over him or her, even if he or she does not reside within the geographic area that makes up that court’s jurisdiction.

Normally, a person submits himself or herself to personal jurisdiction by physically entering the jurisdiction. A special appearance is an appearance by a party within a court’s jurisdiction that is conditioned on not submitting himself or herself to such jurisdiction. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow this as it gives the party the ability to argue that the court should not be able to assert jurisdiction over him or her without implying consent to the assertion by physically entering the jurisdiction, as would normally be the case.

For example, if a man who lives in Massachusetts is served a summons through the mail stating that he must appear in a Florida court, he may want to challenge that court’s assertion of jurisdiction over him. In order to do this, he may have to appear in court, which presents a problem, as setting foot in Florida would validly subject him to the jurisdiction of Florida courts. By making a special appearance, he may enter the state with the sole intention of appearing at court to contend that he may not be summoned to Florida courts because they do not hold personal jurisdiction over him.

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My attorney charged me a thousand dollars to put out a "special appearance" case. Then I read they usually do this for free, and to top it off, he only advised me to get an attorney locally. Was the fee he charged appropriate, only to tell me he wouldn't be my attorney?

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