The United States is a nation of laws, and every day, countless legal disputes arise that require the attention of courts. Recent statistics indicate that the United States Supreme Court alone receives between 7,000 to 8,000 case filings per term. However, only a handful of these cases get granted for argument. Each year, the court agrees to hear an average of 80 cases chosen from among the thousands of petitions filed.
During this process, rigorous discussions occur, and the court determines the validity of the case based on several factors, including subject matter jurisdiction. As a crucial legal concept, every lawyer and client should know what subject matter jurisdiction entails and its implications.
This article will delve into the basics of subject matter jurisdiction and why it is essential to understand this concept. So, what is subject matter jurisdiction, and why is it critical? Let’s find out.
What Is Subject Matter Jurisdiction?
Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear a specific kind of lawsuit or legal dispute. In simpler terms, it is the power of a court to adjudicate or decide on a specific legal matter. It is a critical legal concept that ensures that cases are heard by the appropriate court, which has the legal authority to decide on the specific issue.
Subject matter jurisdiction is determined by the nature of the case, which is usually based on the subject matter, the amount of money at stake, or the type of relief sought. For example, some courts may have subject matter jurisdiction over family law cases, while others may have jurisdiction over criminal cases. The court’s jurisdiction must align with the subject matter of the case, or else the court lacks the power to hear and decide on the issue.
Subject matter jurisdiction is distinct from personal jurisdiction, which refers to the court’s authority over the parties involved in a case. Personal jurisdiction concerns whether a particular court can exercise power over a defendant or respondent. On the other hand, subject matter jurisdiction refers to the court’s ability to preside over a particular category of legal issue.
Understanding subject matter jurisdiction is essential for lawyers and clients alike. Without proper subject matter jurisdiction, a court’s decision may be deemed void or invalid. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the court has the appropriate subject matter jurisdiction before proceeding with a case.
Types of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
In the United States, subject matter jurisdiction is typically defined by statute, and each court has specific subject matter jurisdictional limits. There are two main types of subject matter jurisdiction, which are the following:
Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Federal subject matter jurisdiction refers to the authority of federal courts to hear and decide on cases based on federal law. There are several types of federal subject matter jurisdiction, including federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction.
Federal question jurisdiction refers to cases under the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, or treaties. It means that the case involves a question of federal law, and the federal court has the authority to hear and decide on the matter. Examples of topics under federal question jurisdiction include disputes involving federal civil rights, bankruptcy, and patent law.
Diversity jurisdiction, on the other hand, refers to cases that involve citizens of different states and an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000. The federal court has the authority to hear and decide on the matter because of the diversity of the parties involved.
State Subject Matter Jurisdiction
State subject matter jurisdiction refers to the authority of state courts to hear and decide on cases based on state law. State courts have subject matter jurisdiction over cases that are not within the federal court’s subject matter jurisdiction or involve state law. Examples of cases that fall under state subject matter jurisdiction include family law matters, probate, and contract disputes.
In some cases, both federal and state courts may have subject matter jurisdiction over a particular case. When this occurs, the parties involved may choose to file the case in either court, depending on their legal strategy.
Key Elements of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Understanding the key elements of subject matter jurisdiction is crucial for lawyers and clients to ensure that a court has the proper authority to hear and decide on a particular legal matter. Failure to satisfy subject matter jurisdiction requirements can result in a court’s decision being void or invalid.
A. Jurisdictional Amount
Jurisdictional amount refers to the minimum amount of money that must be disputed for a court to have subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The amount varies depending on the court and the nature of the case. For example, federal district courts have jurisdiction over cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
In some cases, the amount of controversy may be challenging to determine. For instance, in personal injury cases, the plaintiff may not know the extent of their damages when filing the lawsuit. In such cases, the court may require the plaintiff to estimate the damages to determine if the jurisdictional amount is met.
B. Jurisdictional Threshold
The jurisdictional threshold refers to the legal requirement that must be met for a court to have subject matter jurisdiction over a case. The threshold varies depending on the court and the nature of the case. For example, in federal courts, cases must arise under federal law or involve a diversity of citizenship, as discussed earlier.
In state courts, the threshold may depend on the type of case. For example, in some states, the jurisdictional threshold for small claims court is $10,000; in others, it may be $5,000.
C. Jurisdictional Inquiry
Jurisdictional inquiry refers to the process of determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction over a particular case. The court may raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction on its own or upon the request of one of the parties. In some cases, the parties may agree on the court’s jurisdiction before proceeding.
During the jurisdictional inquiry, the court will review the nature of the case, the amount of controversy, and the legal requirements for subject matter jurisdiction. The court may also consider any objections or arguments made by the parties regarding subject matter jurisdiction.
D. Burden of Proof
Burden of proof refers to the legal responsibility of a party to prove that a court has subject matter jurisdiction over a case. The burden of proof may vary depending on the court and the nature of the case. In general, the party asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proof.
For example, in federal court, the plaintiff must prove that the court has subject matter jurisdiction by demonstrating that the case involves a federal question or diversity of citizenship. In state court, the burden of proof may depend on the specific state and the type of case.
Challenging Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Challenging subject matter jurisdiction is essential in some cases, as it ensures the court has the proper authority to hear and decide on a particular legal matter. Lawyers and clients must understand how they can challenge subject matter jurisdiction to avoid any potential issues in their legal proceedings.
A. Waiving Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Waiving subject matter jurisdiction means voluntarily giving up the right to challenge the court’s jurisdiction over the case. A party may waive subject matter jurisdiction by failing to raise the issue in a timely manner or by participating in the case without objection.
For example, a defendant may waive subject matter jurisdiction by filing an answer to the complaint without objecting to the court’s jurisdiction over the case. In such cases, the defendant may be deemed to have accepted the court’s jurisdiction, even if there was a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
B. Objecting to Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Objecting to subject matter jurisdiction means challenging the court’s authority to hear the case based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. A party may object to subject matter jurisdiction by filing a motion to dismiss or raise the issue at any stage of the proceeding.
A defendant may object to subject matter jurisdiction in federal court by arguing that the case does not involve a federal question or diversity of citizenship. In state court, a party may object to subject matter jurisdiction by arguing that the court lacks jurisdiction over the particular type of case.
C. Consequences of Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
If a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, any decision it makes may be void or invalid. The court may lack the authority to hear the case, and any judgments or orders issued may be unenforceable.
For instance, if a plaintiff files a lawsuit in small claims court, but the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold, any judgment issued by the court may be void. Similarly, if a defendant is convicted of a federal crime, but the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, the conviction may be overturned on appeal.
Subject matter jurisdiction is a crucial legal concept that ensures cases are heard by the appropriate court with the authority to decide on specific issues. It is essential for lawyers and clients to understand subject matter jurisdiction, its elements, and how it can be challenged to ensure their legal proceedings go smoothly. Knowing these critical components is an important legal concept that will help both parties understand their rights when dealing with any dispute or controversy.
Is jurisdiction over the subject matter conferred by law?
Yes, jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred by law. In the United States, subject matter jurisdiction is typically defined by statute, and each court has specific subject matter jurisdictional limits. Federal courts, for example, have limited subject matter jurisdiction and can only hear cases that fall within the jurisdictional limits set forth by Congress. Similarly, state courts have jurisdiction over matters that are not within the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
The jurisdictional limits are established to ensure that each court has the authority to hear and decide only those cases that fall within its jurisdiction. Courts do not have the power to hear cases outside their subject matter jurisdiction, even if both parties agree to have the case heard by that court.
For example, if a case involves a federal question, such as a dispute over a federal law or the U.S. Constitution, only federal courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide the case. Similarly, if a case involves a state law issue, such as a contract dispute or a personal injury claim, state courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide the case.
Can lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter may be raised?
Yes, lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter can be raised by either party at any time during the legal proceedings. This is because subject matter jurisdiction is a fundamental aspect of a court’s authority, and courts do not have the power to hear cases outside their subject matter jurisdiction.
If a court does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case, the court cannot make a legally binding decision on the case, and any decision made is void. For example, if a state court hears a case involving a federal question, and the defendant objects to the lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court cannot proceed with the case and must dismiss it.
Parties can raise the issue of lack of subject matter jurisdiction in several ways. They can do so by filing a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case. Alternatively, they can raise the issue in their answer or during oral argument.
It is important to note that a lack of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived or consented to by the parties. Even if both parties agree to have a case heard by a court without subject matter jurisdiction, the court does not have the authority to hear and decide the case.
What is determined by jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction is an essential concept in the legal system, and it determines what a court can and cannot do in a case. It determines whether a court has the authority to hear and decide a particular case or not. By conferring jurisdiction to a court, the law grants it power over certain matters and limits its authority in other matters.