J. Layne Smith
Q. Judge Smith, what does personal competence mean? Robert
A. Personal jurisdiction is the authority of a court over you.
If you live in Florida, the Sunshine State has personal jurisdiction over you. This is because you would expect to file and defend lawsuits in Florida but not in other states.
Courts in other states do not have personal jurisdiction over you, unless you:
1. Owning real estate there,
2. Commit a crime there,
3. Break a contract there,
4. Commit an offense there, or
5. Do enough business there.
Be forewarned that if a plaintiff sues you in another state, you must immediately assert that the court has no personal jurisdiction over you. Otherwise, you will forgo the defense. Ignoring or responding to legal action without legal advice will be a costly mistake.
Suppose you have never had contact with the state of Idaho. You don’t live there, haven’t been or done business there. Suppose your nemesis moves to Idaho and takes legal action against you. An Idaho state court does not have personal jurisdiction over you.
Suppose you were in a car accident in Jefferson County, Alabama. In that case, you can expect the plaintiff to sue you there, and an Alabama court would have personal jurisdiction over you.
Suppose the Sheriff of Fulton County, Georgia arrests you for possession of cocaine. The local prosecutor will charge you there and a Georgian court would have personal jurisdiction over you.
Q. Judge Smith, what does ratione materiae jurisdiction mean? Faith
A. The material jurisdiction is the authority of the court to hear and decide on particular cases. A state court derives its jurisdiction in matters from the constitution and statutes of the state. A tribunal is either competent in the matter or it does not have one.
Florida County Courts have jurisdiction over tort cases, civil cases involving $ 30,000 or less, violations of city and county ordinances, and anything else permitted by law. The Florida circuit courts have substantive jurisdiction over everything else.
For example, a negligence lawsuit to recover $ 8,250 for property damage belongs only to the county court. Crime and family law matters only belong to the circuit court.
Q. Judge Smith, what does place mean? Nathan
A. The place concerns the fairness of suing a defendant in a particular county. It governs where legal action can be filed and pursued. Typically, by law, a plaintiff can bring a civil action in the county where the defendant resides, commits a tort, or violates a contract. Thus, an applicant may have the option of filing the application in more than one county.
Suppose you operate a store in the Tallahassee Mall where a customer slips and falls. Suppose the plaintiff, who resides in Miami-Dade County, sues you there for negligence. By law, you can ask the Miami-Dade County judge to transfer the case to Leon County to avoid defending the trial in a remote county.
Let’s go over a related concept: an inconvenient forum. Suppose the location of a business is correctly located in Leon or Palm Beach counties. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Leon County, but 26 of the 27 witnesses live in Palm Beach County. The defendant may choose to transfer the case to Palm Beach County, the most convenient place to try the case.
The law of jurisdiction and place is nuanced and cases can relate to a single fact. I recommend bringing in a professional from the start. In the event of a lawsuit, promptly notify your lawyer, insurance agent and liability companies and provide them with a copy of the summons and documents of the lawsuit.
If you understand these concepts, I taught you a civil procedure semester in less than 600 words!
The Honorable J. Layne Smith is a circuit judge, author and speaker. Send your questions to email@example.com.
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