Before taking up a case for hearing, the judge has to decide whether it falls within the jurisdiction of the court. Without the power of authority over the persons, things and territories related to the case, the judge lacks the authority to hear the case. Jurisdiction also refers to the political authority of a government over a geographical area. Unless a court has legal jurisdiction over the subject matter, person and territory, the case cannot be heard in that court. Even if the case is heard and a judgment is delivered, it can be contested successfully on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction. For this reason it is important to file a case in the right court.
Subject jurisdiction takes priority over personal jurisdiction. The court must have jurisdiction over both the person and the subject of the case. For example, only a federal court has authority to accept cases related to immigration and patent disputes. On the other hand, a local bankruptcy court has complete jurisdiction over the bankruptcy case of a local business. Even when a business has minimal contact with the State, the state court has jurisdiction over it. For example, an online seller operating from state A can be sued by its customer from state B if the seller sold a product to that customer. The case can be filed in the customer’s state. The seller has contact with the customer’s state and comes under its jurisdiction. In divorce cases, lawsuits related to custody and visitation rights can be filed only in the state where the divorce case was filed.
A court’s jurisdiction can be limited even by the amount of money involved in the business dispute. The states determine the monetary limit in the small claim cases. When a dispute involves only a small monetary value, it can be heard only in small claims court. While most cases are filed in the state courts, there are some cases that are heard in the federal courts. These cases relate to disputes between states, federal laws, US treaties and US constitution. US tax courts have jurisdiction over federal and IRS tax cases.