What is Concurrent Jurisdiction? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet
Concurrent jurisdiction means that two different courts have the authority to hear the same case. In this lesson we will explore the definition in more detail and look at some examples.

Little Max asks his dad if he could ride his four-wheeler. Dad says no, so after his dad leaves, Max asks his mom who says yes. So is Max being disobedient? He could argue that since both of his parents had the authority to let him ride his ATV, he wasn't disobeying. Is he right?

Max riding his ATV
Kid boy riding atv

When Can a Court Can Hear a Case?

Max's parents both have the authority to determine whether Max can ride his ATV. In the legal world, jurisdiction is the authority to hear a case. It means that a particular court has the legal authority to hear a case in that territory, over those parties and concerning that subject matter. For example, if a person commits an infraction or a misdemeanor in a particular judicial district, then the court in that district has the authority to hear the case.

Newberry County Courthouse, South Carolina
county courthouse

Can More Than One Court Hear a Case?

Does that mean that no other court can hear that case? What if a person was charged with both a misdemeanor and a felony? Does that mean he or she would have separate trials with different prosecutors and different judges?

No, since often more than one court can hear that case, whichever court the charges are filed in can take care of both charges. Concurrent jurisdiction allows more than one court to have the authority to hear the same case. This plays out in civil cases as well as criminal cases. In many states, a person can sue for a divorce in the local district level court, family court or any one of the district courts in the state. Keep in mind, that all 50 states and the U.S. Territories have the right to decide their courts' jurisdiction, so it will vary state to state.

Concurrent jurisdiction can also occur between federal and state courts as well. For example, let's say you are at your neighborhood bakery, and you bite into one of your favorite pastries and break a tooth on a paper clip. Of course, you can sue that bakery in your local court. But let's say the parent company is located in another state. Then you also have the option of suing in federal court. This is called diversity jurisdiction, which means that when both parties to a suit have different (diverse) citizenship, then the matter can be heard in federal court.

US Courthouse New Haven, Connecticut
US Courthouse Federal Appeals

Since diversity jurisdiction gives both the state and the federal government jurisdiction over the location, the parties and the subject matter (the area of law that is at the point of controversy) of the case, then both court systems can hear the case.

If we apply this idea of shared jurisdiction to Max's situation, does it help him any? Probably not. Most parents have a rule that once you ask one parent, you can't go try again with the other. Likewise, if Max wanted to use the legal world as an analogy to help him out, he would run into the same rule. Once you try a case in a court that has concurrent jurisdiction, then you can't go back and try it again in the other court. For example, if a civil case can be filed in federal or state court, and you lose in state court, you can't turn around and have another bite at the apple in federal court.

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