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Proper Venue in Federal Courts


Proper Venue in Federal Courts

A Rough Measure of Convenience


Earlier chapters have considered personal and subject matter jurisdiction, two crucial restrictions on the forums in which a lawsuit may be brought. Frequently, these “first two rings” will dramatically limit the plaintiff’s choice of forum. For example, if Jones comes to Alabama, Smith’s home state, and is injured there in a collision with Smith, Jones will likely be able to obtain personal jurisdiction over Smith only in Alabama.

However, personal and subject matter jurisdiction will not always limit the plaintiff’s choice of forum so significantly. Suppose, for example, that Smith travels a great deal in her work, so that she could be personally served with process in other states. Under Burnham v. Superior Court of California, 495 U.S. 604 (1990), such personal service in another state—say Illinois or Oregon—would probably suffice to support jurisdiction in that state. And, because Smith and Jones are diverse, the federal district courts in every state would have subject matter jurisdiction. Even if they were not diverse, the broad subject matter jurisdiction of the state courts in every state would support jurisdiction over this ordinary tort case. Thus, if only the first two “rings” limited Jones’s choice of courts, she might well be able to sue Smith in any state in the United States, quite possibly in either federal or state court in each one.

Venue rules are meant to further restrict the places where the plaintiff may choose to bring suit, to assure that suits are tried in a place that bears some sensible relationship to the claims asserted or to the parties to the action. Such venue rules form a third “ring,” apart from and in addition to personal and subject matter jurisdiction, which must be satisfied (or waived) if a court is to hear a particular case. Every court system, state or federal, has venue rules, generally established by statute. State court venue provisions often provide that cases must be brought in the county where one of the parties resides or does business, where the claim arose, or where property in dispute is located. Friedenthal, Kane, and Miller (4th ed.), §2.15.

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