Concurrent Jurisdiction

Concurrent jurisdiction occurs when more than one court has the authority to hear and decide a civil or criminal case. For instance, in the United States, both federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction to hear and decide many types of cases. Similarly, many states have instituted specialized courts, such as small claims courts, traffic courts, and family courts, which hold concurrent jurisdiction with the higher state court in deciding cases of similar subject matter. To explore this concept, consider the following concurrent jurisdiction definition.

Definition of Jurisdiction

Noun

  1. The right, power, or authority to hear and determine causes of action or controversies.
  2. The geographical area or territory over which judicial or law enforcement authority is exercised.

Origin

1250-1300 Latin jūris dictiōn

The Existence of Concurrent Jurisdiction

The U.S. Constitution allows concurrent jurisdiction where physical boundaries are crossed, or where the laws governing the parties to a court action differ. For example, if a person who lives in California sues a company located in Florida for breach of contract, he could file his lawsuit either in his home state of California, which is where he entered into the contract, in the state of Florida, which has jurisdiction over the company, or in federal court, under its “diversity jurisdiction.”

In the United States, concurrent jurisdiction may also exist between the various levels of state court, between state or local courts and other government agencies, or even with other countries who share authority over the parties.

Forum Shopping

The existence of concurrent jurisdiction, both on the federal, state, and local levels, leads to a phenomenon known as “forum shopping,” in which parties to a court case will attempt to have their civil or criminal matter heard in the court they feel will provide the most favorable decision.

Forum shopping is most common in cases where state and federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction, as state and federal courts adhere to different procedural rules, and often refer to different substantive law in deciding cases. Because in civil cases, the Plaintiff chooses the court in which he files a lawsuit, knowledge of these differences can be used to the Plaintiff’s advantage. For example, a person suing a large pharmaceutical company for an injury caused by one of their drugs might find a jury made up of local people to be more sympathetic to his cause.

Diversity Jurisdiction

The United States district court has the authority to hear and decide civil cases in which the parties are “diverse in citizenship.” This means that the parties to a civil lawsuit are from different states, or one or more are not U.S. citizens, or residents of a foreign country. The power to allow federal courts to hear diversity cases was granted to Congress in Article III of the U.S. Constitution. This was due to the concern that, when a lawsuit or criminal case was filed in one state involving parties from other states as well, the court might show bias toward the party from that state. Congress put diversity jurisdiction into practice in the Judiciary Act of 1789, the modern jurisdiction being set forth in 28 U.S.C. §1332.

Diversity of Parties

Understanding when diversity jurisdiction may be applied can be a confusing endeavor. Generally speaking, none of the parties to the action can be from the same state for diversity to apply. For this purpose, individuals, companies, and other entities are treated differently in determining residency.

  • Corporation – considered a citizen of the state in which it is incorporated, and in which its principal place of business is located.
  • Partnership or LLC – considered a citizen of all of its members or partners. If even one partner or member shares citizenship with an opposing party, there is no diversity.
  • Municipalities – while cities and townships are considered citizens of the states in which they are located, states are considered federal citizens for the purpose of diversity.
  • Individuals – U.S. citizens are also citizens of the state in which they live, which is to say the most recent state in which they resided and intend to stay.
  • Foreign Nationals – current laws deny diversity jurisdiction to foreign nationals, even if they have been granted permanent resident status.
  • U.S. Citizens Living Outside the U.S. – a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S. is not considered to be a citizen of any state, and cannot be considered an “alien” or “foreign national” for legal purposes. Such a person being party to a civil or criminal action eliminates diversity jurisdiction, except in mass- or class-action suits.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Residency – the geographical location in which a person lives or resides; the location of a business’ main office or to which a corporation is registered.
  • Foreign National – a person who is not a citizen of the country in which he is living.

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