What is Federal Jurisdiction?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 February 2020
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Federal jurisdiction means that the federal court has the legal right to hear a case and decide what happens to the parties involved in it. In order for a court to decide what happens to you — or to adjudicate your dispute — that court has to have the right to compel you to do something. Courts get that right through personal jurisdiction. The court also must have an interest in deciding a case dealing with that particular subject; family court, for example, would not have much interest in deciding a car accident lawsuit. This is referred to as subject matter jurisdiction.

In the United States, there are two main court systems that could have jurisdiction over a case: the federal court system or the state court system. Federal courts include the US Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeals, and bankruptcy and tax courts. State courts include individual courts within each state, as well as family courts and small claims courts. According to the US Constitution in Article III, the federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, while the state courts are courts of general jurisdiction. That means that the state courts have a wide subject matter jurisdiction and are interested in and get to hear a lot of different cases, while federal jurisdiction is limited to cases in which the Constitution has expressly stated that the federal court has an interest.


Therefore, for federal jurisdiction to exist, specific conditions must be met. There are two ways in which a federal court can obtain federal jurisdiction over a matter. The first way is if the case arises out of a federal question or law. The second way is called diversity jurisdiction and exists if the two parties involved in the lawsuit are from different states or have different residencies and if the dispute is about more than $10,000 US Dollars (USD).

Federal question cases are cases in which the two parties are having a dispute that federal law will decide. For example, if one party believes that a law is unconstitutional, the case will have to be decided in federal court because the question will require the interpretation of the Constitution and because the dispute "arises" out of or is based on the Constitution. Likewise, if a person sues under federal laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal jurisdiction exists because the case arises out of a law passed by the federal government.


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Post 2

I have a friend who worked in Tennessee for a few years and then moved to Alabama after she found a new job. Her old employer sued her for $15,000 because she did not complete a major project before she left. The company lost the client because of her, and they wanted to get their money back some way. Federal personal jurisdiction came into play in this situation.

Because she had already taken up residence in Alabama by the time the company filed the suit against her, a federal court heard the case. They determined that she only had to pay back $7,000 because she had given the notice required in her original contract.

The only reason she had to pay any was because of a clause stating that any projects left unfinished when an employee left had to be completed long distance via phone and email, and she had failed to make arrangements for that.

Post 1

I enjoy watching shows that involve the FBI, like Criminal Minds. I have learned from watching it that in order for the FBI to have jurisdiction in a case, the serial killer or rapist must have killed victims in more than one state.

Once he crosses the state line and commits a crime, the case belongs to the FBI. They can take over and instruct local law enforcement on how to act. A federal court will hear the case in the end.

If a killer plans ahead, he confines his crimes to one state to avoid the extremely good investigative skills of the FBI. State law enforcement is almost always less equipped to solve major cases.

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