Personal jurisdiction (United States)

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Personal jurisdiction refers to a court's power over a particular defendant (in personam jurisdiction) or an item of property (in rem or in limited cases, quasi in rem jurisdiction). If a court does not have personal jurisdiction over a defendant or property, then the court cannot bind the defendant to an obligation or adjudicate any rights over the property. In the American legal system, personal jurisdiction is to be distinguished from subject-matter jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to render a judgment concerning a certain subject matter, or territorial jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to render a judgment concerning events that occurred within a territory. Unlike with subject-matter jurisdiction, objections to personal jurisdiction may be waived, even unintentionally, by a defendant. Personal jurisdiction, territorial jurisdiction, subject-matter jurisdiction, and proper notice to the defendant are the most fundamental constitutional prerequisites for a valid judgment.


Personal jurisdiction in the United States

  • Personal jurisdiction:

The expansion of personal jurisdiction in the 20th century

Traditionally, in civil proceedings in American courts, the defendant or land in dispute was required to be physically served with process in the state where the court sits. This is commonly referred to as "tag" jurisdiction. Over the years, the reach of personal jurisdiction has been expanded by judicial interpretations and legislative enactments. States in the United States have enacted so-called long-arm statutes, by which courts in a state can exercise jurisdiction over a party located outside the state, if the party has sufficient contacts within the state.

Constitutional limits

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that constitutional requirements of due process limit the exercise of personal jurisdiction over nonresidents. The same outer constitutional boundaries for personal jurisdiction apply in both state courts and federal courts. Moreover, because of Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP 4), a federal court ordinarily applies the personal jurisdiction statutes (e.g., long-arm statutes) of the state in which it sits, even when the state has not extended personal jurisdiction to its constitutional limits. (Some states, such as California, have long-arm statutes that give their courts personal jurisdiction to the extent constitutionally permitted.) In some exceptional circumstances, FRCP 4 grants a federal court personal jurisdiction when the law of the state in which it sits would not.

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