Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Jurisdiction Definition:

Legal authority to judge or to act in a given situation or case.

Related Terms: Long Arm Statutes, Personal Jurisdiction, Plea to the Jurisdiction, Venue, Attorn or Attornment, Private International Law, Universal Jurisdiction, Temporal Jurisdiction

Refers to a court's authority to judge over a dispute usually acquired in one of three ways:

  • over acts committed in a defined territory (eg. the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Australia is limited to acts committed or originating in Australia),
  • over certain types of cases (the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court is limited to bankruptcy cases), or
  • over certain persons (a military court has jurisdiction limited to actions of enlisted personnel).

In a nutshell, as Justice Wood of the United States Court of Appeals wrote in Laborers' Pension Fund:

"Jurisdiction usually refers to a court's authority to entertain a case, rather than to procedural incidents. If jurisdiction exists at the outset of a suit, subsequent procedural events will not divest the court of that original jurisdiction."

Similarly, these words adopted by Justice See of the Supreme Court of Alabama in Ex parte Culbreth:

"Jurisdiction is a court's power to decide a case or issue a decree. In deciding whether a petitioner's claim properly challenges the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction, we ask only whether the trial court had the requisite constitutional and statutory authority."

In Arkansas, Justice Jim Gunter of that state's Supreme Court wrote, in Erin Inc.:

"Jurisdiction is the power of the court to hear and determine the subject matter in controversy between the parties."

Similarly, and finally, consider these words of Justice Mosely of the Court of Appeals of Texas in McCarver v State:

"Jurisdiction is the power of the court over the subject matter of the case, conveyed by statute or constitutional provision, coupled with personal jurisdiction over the parties."


  • Erin Inc. v. White County Circuit Court, 253 SW 3d 444 (2007)
  • Ex parte Culbreth, 966 So. 2d 910 (2006)
  • Laborers' Pension Fund v Pavement Maintenance Inc., 542 F. 3d 189 (2008)
  • McCarver v. State, 257 SW 3d 512 (2008)

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