LAW 521-002 – Civil Procedure I

Subject Matter Jurisdiction


Unlike states, with their ability to any kind of case via their general jurisdiction, federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.

Unlike personal jurisdiction and venue, subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived.

Subject matter jurisdiction is governed by Article III Section 2 of the Constitution.

Federal Jurisdiction is:

  1. Limited
    • Can only hear cases under Article III Section 2.
  2. Concurrent
    • Federal Court share most of their jurisdiction with state courts.
  3. Exclusive
    • Exclusive federal jurisdiction is where only the federal courts can hear a case, not the state courts.
    • Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction in the following types of cases:
      • Bankruptcy [28 U.S.C. § 1334]
      • Patent and Copyright [28 U.S.C. § 1338]
      • IRS [28 U.S.C. § 1340]
      • Postal Matters [28 U.S.C. § 1339]
      • Securities [15 U.S.C. § 1340]
      • Antitrust [15 U.S.C. § § 1-27]
      • Misc not on test:
        • Admiralty [Art III; § 1333; but exclusivity only re: limitation of liability and “in rem” matters]
        • Miscellaneous cases where U.S. is involved, i.e. cases involving fines/forfeitures under federal law, torts or crimes against U.S.; customs review.

As well as:

  • Proscribed

Federal limited jurisdiction is granted in three cases:

  1. Federal Question Jurisdiction

    28 U.S.C. § 1331:

    The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.

    "Arising under" means the claim is “substantially founded” on a federal law.

    The well-pleaded complaint rule says that the federal question must be part of plaintiff's complaint. It cannot be a defense of the defendant's that is merely anticipated. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley.

  2. Diversity Jurisdiction

    Diversity jurisdiction is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1332:

    1. The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between—
      1. citizens of different States;
      2. citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state, except that the district courts shall not have original jurisdiction under this subsection of an action between citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state who are lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States and are domiciled in the same State;
      3. citizens of different States and in which citizens or subjects of a foreign state are additional parties; and
      4. a foreign state, defined in section 1603(a) of this title, as plaintiff and citizens of a State or of different States.

    If foreigners are on both sides, an American is needed on both sides.

    Must have complete diversity at the time of the complaint.

    Complete Diversity

    To have complete diversity, no defendant can be of the same domicile as any plaintiff. Strawbridge v. Curtis.

    A corporation's domicile is based off their place of incorporation and their principal place of business. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c). This is the same as for personal jurisdiction.

    An exception is class actions. If the class action is for over $5 million only a minimal diversity is needed. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). This means that only any plaintiff has to be from a different state than any defendant. An exception to this exception is if between one-third and two-thirds of the plaintiffs and the primary defendant are both from the forum state, in which case the court may still deny such a class action. 18 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2)(3)

    Amount in Controversy

    For diversity, the amount in controversy that the plaintiff reasonably expects to receive must exceed $75,000.

    Interest and attorney fees are excluded unless they are part of the cause of action. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)

    Defendant can contest the amount for diversity only if there is no legally possible recovery exceeding $75,000.

    When plaintiff seeks non-monetary relief, there are three ways to determine the amount in controversy. The value to plaintiff, defendant, or the one seeking diversity.

    A single plaintiff can aggregate all his various claims against a single defendant. Two plaintiffs may aggregate their claims unless they are separate and distinct.

    In a class action, at least one person must be over $75,000.

    Class actions have special rules if they are over $5 million. Then they do not need anyone with over $75k and only need minimal diversity. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2)(A)

  3. Supplemental Jurisdiction

    Supplemental jurisdiction gives subject matter jurisdiction over additional claims that do not independently qualify for federal subject matter jurisdiction when the original claim establishes federal question jurisdiction or diversity jurisdiction.

    Under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), federal courts shall exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim "so related" that the claims "form part of the same case or controversy." This means the claims "derive from a common nucleus of operative fact" and are of such a nature that courts "would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding." United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs.

    In diversity-only cases, a plaintiff cannot bring a supplemental jurisdiction claim against another defendant or join another suit, when doing so would be inconsistent with complete diversity. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(b).

    Courts have discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) to decline supplemental jurisdiction if:

    1. it is a novel/complex issue of state law
    2. the state claim predominates the federal claim
    3. the court has dismissed the original claims upon which jurisdiction was granted
    4. there are other compelling reasons

    If a claim is dismissed under 1367(b) or (c), the statute of limitations is tolled for at least 30 days. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d)