The Concept of Jurisdiction



A court’s general authority to hear and/or “adjudicate” a legal matter is referred to as its “jurisdiction.” In the United States, jurisdiction is granted to a court or court system by statute or by constitution. A court is competent to hear and decide only those cases whose subject matter fits within the court’s jurisdiction. A legal decision made by a court that did not have proper jurisdiction is deemed void and nonbinding upon the litigants.

Jurisdiction may be referred to as “exclusive,” “original,” concurrent, general, or limited. Federal court jurisdiction may be “exclusive” over certain matters or parties (to the exclusion of any other forum) or may be “concurrent” and shared with state courts. In matters where both federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction, state courts may hear federal law claims (e.g., violations of civil rights), and parties bringing suit may choose the forum. However, when a plaintiff raises both state and federal claims in a state court, the defendant may be able to “remove” the case to a federal court.