Copyright

Diversity Jurisdiction: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet
When can you make a federal case out of it? In this lesson, we will learn how diversity jurisdiction allows a legal matter between two citizens to wind up in a federal courthouse.

You get into a fender bender that was your fault. The driver is heated and starts yelling at you. You show him your insurance card and driver's license and tell him to calm down and not make a federal case of it. A few weeks later you get served with papers saying that you are commanded to appear in federal court. Apparently, he did make a federal case out of it. Is that right? Why would a federal court be the right place to hear a personal injury case?

When Can a Court Hear a Case?

Jusisdiction is the authority of a court to hear a case. A court must have authority in three areas of jurisdiction before it can preside over a case. Territorial (often called venue), in personum or personal (over the person), and subject matter (the power of the court to hear the subject of the case). In both state and federal courts, this authority comes from a statute which means that a law was passed providing that authority.

If a court doesn't have all three of those in a particular case, then that court can't hear that case. Even the US Supreme Court can't hear a case if it doesn't have the proper jurisdiction.

State and Federal Courts

Typically, like oil and water, federal and state courts don't mix. They each have their sphere of authority, and they rarely share that authority. The Constitution lays out the powers that jurisdiction of the federal courts has, and the 10th Amendment says 'the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.' This creates a line between the federal court system and the individual state systems.

New York-New Jersey state line inside the Lincoln Tunnel
Lincoln Tunnel State Line

For example, a New York media mogul's prize Doberman Pinscher is held for ransom. The local police have complete control of the case, but if they took the dog through the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, then the federal government would have jurisdiction since the crime occurred over two states. At this point, the Federal Bureau of Investigations could get involved and charge the dog-nappers in federal court. It's similar in civil cases. Controversies that arise between state citizens typically remain in that state, however, there are exceptions.

Federal Jurisdiction

Article III, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, gives the federal courts jurisdiction over 'all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution'. This means a federal trial court can hear any case involving the subject matter of a constitutional right. This is called a federal question and it means that if at the center of a dispute, there is a question of federal law or the United States Constitution, then the federal courts would have jurisdiction.

The United States Constituiton
US Constitution

For example, let's say the local police raid your home and find nothing. They have a warrant, but you contend it was an invalid warrant. If you decide to sue the local police department, you can do so in federal court because the subject matter of your complaint is your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. This extends to any other of the rights guaranteed to US citizens in the Constitution and to any matter arising from a valid federal statute.

'But wait!' you wonder, 'how can a simple personal injury case end up in federal court? It's called diversity jurisdiction, and it also comes from Article III of the Constitution.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support