In order to hear cases, a court must have jurisdiction over both the parties to the lawsuit and the subject matter of the lawsuit. These two types of jurisdiction are referred to as personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. A court must have both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction over all the parties to a lawsuit, or the court will not have the authority to hear that lawsuit. This article will discuss the requirements for jurisdiction for both federal and state courts. Many jurisdiction requirements over parties are the same for both federal and state courts. However, there are a few differences, especially regarding subject matter jurisdiction, which will be discussed below.

Personal Jurisdiction

Whenever a court hears a case, it must have personal jurisdiction over the parties involved. Personal jurisdiction is present when a court has the authority to make a binding decision over all the parties involved in a lawsuit. A court will always have personal jurisdiction over parties who live in the state where the court is located. However, there are several ways that courts can gain personal jurisdiction over people who do not live in the same state as the court. Most states have what is known as a “long-arm” statute that allows state courts to gain personal jurisdiction over non-residents if that non-resident has had at least “minimum contact” with the state. The United States Supreme Court has held that the “minimum contact” requirement will be satisfied if the activity that is the basis of the lawsuit took place in the state where the court is located. Non-residents may also have minimum contact with a state if the non-resident owns property in that state or if the non-resident visits a state and is given notice of the lawsuit while in that state. Federal courts will apply the same long-arm statutes of the state that it is located in to determine personal jurisdiction. For example, the federal courts located in Texas would apply Texas personal jurisdiction laws.

Finally, any party, resident or non-resident, can voluntarily consent to personal jurisdiction by appearing before the court. For this reason, courts are almost always assumed to have personal jurisdiction over a plaintiff because by bringing a lawsuit before a court, the plaintiff has consented to the court’s authority. If a non-resident party wants to challenge personal jurisdiction, they must do so immediately because if the non-resident party appears before the court without challenging personal jurisdiction, that can waive the right to raise a challenge later on.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction

In addition to personal jurisdiction, a court must have subject matter jurisdiction in order to hear a case. Most state courts are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning they have the jurisdiction to hear cases of any subject matter. State courts can hear cases ranging from family law matters to contract disputes. However, federal courts are considered courts of limited jurisdiction. Limited jurisdiction means that Congress limits the subject matter of cases that federal courts can hear. Federal courts only have subject matter jurisdiction to hear cases if the parties have diverse citizenship or the issue arises under federal law. These two types of federal subject matter jurisdiction are called diversity jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction.

Diversity Jurisdiction

Diversity jurisdiction is applicable when the parties are from different states, and the claim is for more than $75,000. Complete diversity requires that no plaintiff can be from the same state as any defendant. For example, a claim would have complete diversity if the plaintiffs are from California and the defendants are from Arkansas. However, there would not be complete diversity if the plaintiffs are from Arkansas and California and the defendants are from Arkansas. In order for a federal court to have diversity jurisdiction, there must be complete diversity, and the amount that the party is suing for must be greater than $75,000.

Federal Question Jurisdiction

In order for a federal court to have federal question jurisdiction, the issue must arise under federal law. Additionally, there are constitutional and statutory requirements that must be met in order for a court to have federal question jurisdiction. The constitutional requirement is set out in Article III of the United States Constitution and gives federal courts jurisdiction over “all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority.” Courts have broadly interpreted this provision to mean that a court can hear a case as long as it has a “federal ingredient.” A case has a “federal ingredient” as long as the plaintiff alleges some violation of the United States Constitution, a federal law, or treaty.

The statutory requirement was enacted by Congress and gave federal courts jurisdiction over cases arising under federal law. This includes federal laws that create a cause of action that allow parties to bring a lawsuit in federal court. For example, the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) creates a federal civil private right of action. The ESA allows a private citizen to bring lawsuits in a federal court in order to stop someone who violates the ESA or to make the government enforce provisions of the ESA. The statutory requirement for subject matter jurisdiction is much narrower than the constitutional requirement because it requires that the lawsuit claim is based on a violation of federal law or the United States Constitution.


Jurisdiction is one of the most important requirements that must be fulfilled in order to file a lawsuit successfully. If a court does not have jurisdiction, one of the parties could have the lawsuit dismissed. If a lawsuit is dismissed for lack of either personal or subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff is responsible for refiling the case in a court that has jurisdiction. To avoid the time and resources spent on refiling a lawsuit, a plaintiff may want to ensure that a court has jurisdiction before filing their case.