Federal Question Jurisdiction: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Motion Granted
  • 0:24 Types of Jurisdiction
  • 1:30 Diversity Jurisdiction
  • 3:07 Federal Question Matters
  • 4:36 Federal Question vs. State Law
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet
Federal question jurisdiction is the authority of a federal trial court to hear cases involving two parties who have a controversy involving federal law or the U.S. Constitution. In this lesson we will explain what that means and provide everyday examples.

Motion Granted

Tia sued her boss for wrongful termination, and her attorney filed in federal court saying they'd get a bigger award. The company's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the claim. Her attorney told her that it was just routine and not to worry about it, so when the judge granted the company's motion, she was shocked. Now why would the judge do that?

Types of Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear a case. There are three types of jurisdiction that every state and federal court must possess to be able to hear and rule in a case. The first type of jurisdiction is territorial jurisdiction, meaning that the court has to be in a geographical area over which the law gives that court the authority to preside, such as a state. The second is in personam jurisdiction, or personal jurisdiction, which is the authority of a court over a person. The final type is subject matter jurisdiction, which requires that the court have authority over the subject matter of the controversy in the case.

All three of these types of jurisdiction are based on a either a federal or state statute or rule. Without statutory authority, a court has no authority to hear a case. It usually works like this: Article III of the U.S. Constitution lays out the general authority of the federal court system. Federal statutes, called the U.S. Code, set out the procedure and boundaries of that authority, with each state having its own set of laws that provides authority for its courts.

Diversity Jurisdiction

Sometimes a person might want to file a case in federal court even though the case seems to be a local matter. In situations like this, there are two primary jurisdiction avenues that can be applied: diversity of citizenship and federal question. The law that governs federal jurisdiction over a state case is 28 U.S.C. § 1332, titled: 'Diversity of Citizenship.' When the federal district courts are given authority to hear a state case, this is called diversity jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction only applies if the case involves opposing parties who are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy is over $75,000.

I know what you're thinking: where is the subject matter jurisdiction in diversity jurisdiction cases? Federal law gives subject matter jurisdiction in all civil cases between citizens of different states. So as long as diversity exists and the amount in controversy is met, then subject matter exists by law. If any one of these requirements is not met, then the federal trial court has no jurisdiction.

Let's take a look at an example. Let's say you bought a microwave, and on your first use it exploded and burned your house down. You could sue the maker of the microwave company in state court. But if the headquarters of the microwave company is in a different state than you are, then you can sue in federal court as long as the damages were over $75,000. This would give you diversity jurisdiction. However, if the microwave company is located in the same state as you, you would only be able to file in state court.

Federal Question Matters

When diversity jurisdiction doesn't apply, we can look to another federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, titled: 'Federal Question.' This federal question law gives the federal district courts original jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to hear a case for the first time, over matters where the subject matter is federal law or the U.S. Constitution.

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