Legal Dictionary

personal jurisdiction

Legal Definition of personal jurisdiction

Related terms

Definition of personal jurisdiction


personal jurisdiction (plural personal jurisdictions)

  1. (law) in the law of civil procedure, the ability of a court to hear a case brought against a party stemming from that party's presence, activities, or contacts within a specified set of geographical boundaries, usually the borders of a county, state, or nation.

Further reading

Personal jurisdiction, in the law of civil procedure in the United States, refers to a court's jurisdiction over the parties to a law suit, as opposed to subject matter jurisdiction (jurisdiction over the determinations of law and fact to be made in the case or controversy). If a court does not have personal jurisdiction over a party, its rulings and decrees cannot be enforced as to that person. Exercise of personal jurisdiction by a court must both comport with Constitutional limitations, and be authorized by statute.

Fundamental Principles of Personal Jurisdiction in the United States

Three fundamentals of personal jurisdiction constrain the ability of courts in the United States to bind individuals or property to its decisions: consent, power, and notice.

- Consent

The United States legal system is an adversarial system. Civil suits are not initiated by third parties, but must be filed by the party who seeks initial redress. The filing of a complaint or prayer for relief is a voluntary action by the plaintiff, and as a necessity of this request, the plaintiff consents to be bound by the judgment of the court. The doctrine of consent is also extended to defendants who attend and litigate actions without challenging personal jurisdiction. Consent may also derive from a pre-litigation agreement by the parties, such as a forum selection clause in a contract (not to be confused with a choice of law clause). Doctrines such as claim preclusion prevent re-litigation of failed complaints in alternative forums.

- Power

Where a defendant challenges jurisdiction, courts may still exercise personal jurisdiction when they have independent power to do so. This power is founded in the inherent nature of state sovereignty over the affairs within its territory.

- Notice

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution preserve the due process rights of individuals. Due process requires that notice be given in a manner "reasonably calculated" to inform a party of the action affecting them. Originally, notice (and power) manifested more viscerally, where the defendant in a civil case could be seized and brought before the court under the writ of capias ad respondendum. Notice is inferred from consent, however when exercising power over an individual without consent, notice is most often effected by service of process.


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