1. What Is Specific Jurisdiction?
2. What Is General Jurisdiction?
3. Analyzing the Boundaries of Specific Jurisdiction

What is specific jurisdiction? Specific personal jurisdiction or simply specific jurisdiction refers to the jurisdiction arising from a defendant's minimum contacts with the state. Jurisdiction is the territorial power of a court or forum to initiate legal proceedings against the defendant. A court can hear a case only if it comes under its jurisdiction.

What Is Specific Jurisdiction?

Specific jurisdiction refers to the personal jurisdiction of a court or forum arising out of a defendant's contacts with the state over which the court or forum has a general jurisdiction. For example, if you are a resident of Florida, a Texas court cannot have general jurisdiction over you. No one can sue you in Texas for any of your activities that do not have any connection with Texas.

However, if you commit a tort in Texas, then the party injured by your act can sue you in Texas because Texas courts will get a specific jurisdiction over you because of your activity in Texas.

What Is General Jurisdiction?

U.S. courts make a distinction between general and specific jurisdictions. General jurisdiction refers to the territorial right of a court or forum to hear a case against a defendant irrespective of the place of action giving rise to the claim. A court usually has a general jurisdiction over a defendant residing within its geographical limits.

For example, if you live in Florida, then Texas courts can only have personal jurisdiction over you with respect to the actions you commit in Texas. However, Florida courts will have a general jurisdiction over you because you are a resident of Florida. A plaintiff can sue you in Florida irrespective of where the cause of action occurred.

Analyzing the Boundaries of Specific Jurisdiction

Walden v. Fiore

In Walden v. Fiore, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the professional gambler duo from Nevada could not force Anthony Walden, a law enforcement agent from Georgia, to litigate in Nevada, since the agent did not have any connection with that state.

Walden had confiscated a huge amount of cash from the two gamblers Fiore and Gipson at an airport in Atlanta, Georgia. After reaching home in Nevada, the gamblers got back their money but only after a runaround, as they claimed, from Walden. They sued Walden in a Nevada federal court.

Walden moved the District Court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, and the court granted the motion. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's decision and held that the Nevada court did have personal jurisdiction over Walden. The case came up for review before the Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit ruling.

The court explained that the jurisdiction depends on the defendant's contact with the forum state. Courts cannot have a personal jurisdiction simply because the defendant harmed someone residing within their general jurisdiction.

Walden did not have any contact with Nevada since he neither lived there nor did he seize the cash there. Hence, deciding jurisdiction would have been quite easy in the case if it were not for a different precedent coming from the Supreme Court in Calder v. Jones. In this case, the Supreme Court had allowed courts in California to proceed with the case involving two authors living outside the state who were sued for libel.

The authors had written a story making scandalous claims about Shirley Jones, a Californian actress. National Enquirer, which circulated in California, carried this story. This case seemed to suggest that you can be sued in California if you harm a person living in California.

The Supreme Court took a limited view of this precedent. It explained that the California court rightly had jurisdiction in that case, not just because the misleading story was directed against a Californian, but rather because of the fact that the story was read by people throughout California. Since publication to third parties is an essential element of defamation, California was nonincidentally connected to the cause of action.

Walden v. Fiore had different circumstances altogether. Walden had seized the cash in Georgia. The only connection he had with Nevada was that the plaintiffs lived there.

Conclusion

  • As a basic principle of jurisdiction, you cannot sue someone in your state just because you live there.
  • The defendant must have a connection with that place.
  • The connection can be either by commission of an act by the defendant or by intentionally reaching out to that place in some other manner.
  • Since the officer seized and kept the plaintiffs' money in Georgia, he could not be sued in Nevada.

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