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Subject Matter Jurisdiction – Quick Look

Civil Procedure

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

1. A party cannot waive objections to lack of SMJ because it relates to the court’s ability to hear the case.

2. Federal Question Jurisdiction

a. When a claim arises out of federal law, the court will have federal subject matter jurisdiction under federal question.

1) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the constitution, laws, or treaties of the U.S.

b. If the defendant’s answer alleges federal law, that is not enough for federal subject matter jurisdiction. The federal law must be pleaded in the plaintiff’s case.

c. Well-Pleaded Complaint Rule

1) Federal Q jurisdiction exists only when the federal law issue is presented in the p’s complaint. Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, the determination of jurisdiction must be made by considering only the necessary elements of the P’s cause of action and not potential defenses.

3. Diversity

a. In order to have diversity jurisdiction, you have to have complete diversity which means no P can be domiciled in the same state as any D and the amount in controversy exceeds $75l. The courts may not exercise supplemental subject matter jurisdiction over a non-diverse D in order to keep the case in federal court. SSMJ only applies once there’s a case in court, so the D must have already been brought in properly, then you get supplemental SMJ if the claims arise out of the same T/O or common nucleus of operative fact.

         1) Class Action

a) As long as the named P is diverse and meets the amount in controversy requirement, the fact that class members are not diverse and may not have individual claims which exceed $75k will not matter. If the aggregate claims of the entire class exceed $5m, then the court will have SMJ.

b) If the named P is not diverse from one of multiple Ds, the court may dismiss the action as against just the non-diverse D but keep jurisdiction over the rest.

b. In a diversity case, claims not arising out of the same T/O cannot be aggregated to meet the amount in controversy requirement. All plaintiffs are diverse from all defendants and amount in controversy needs to exceed $75k. A court will accept the P’s good faith allegations as to damages unless it seems to a legal certainty that the P will not recover more than $75k.

c. A trustee is a real party in interest and the beneficiaries don’t need to be joined in a suit. The citizenship of the trustee will control for diversity purposes.

                d. Domicile

1) Citizenship for a person has been construed by courts to mean domicile. To establish a change in domicile, the defendant must both be physically present in a new location and manifest an intent to remain there indefinitely.

i. Ex. A party who moves to IL long term but expresses an intention to return to North Dakota after finishing her studies is a citizen of North Dakota.

               e. Special Rule for Multiple Plaintiffs

1) Where two plaintiffs bring a claim against a defendant under diversity jurisdiction and one of the plaintiffs cannot independently meet the amount in controversy requirement, the court can exercise SSMJ if the only defect is the amount in controversy as long as the claim arises out of the same T/O and the parties are divers


4. Supplemental Subject Matter Jurisdiction

a. SMJ only applies once there’s a case in court, so the D/P must have already been brought in properly, then you get supplemental SMJ if the claims arise out of the same T/O or common nucleus of operative fact.

        5. Removal

a. Any civil action commenced in a state court that is within the original jurisdiction of a U.S. District Court may generally be removed by the D to the district court for the district in which the state court action was commenced. Only the D can remove to federal court, not the P. Also, in order to remove, the U.S. District Court must have jurisdiction over the subject matter: so there needs to be diversity or federal question. A motion to remove must be made within 30 days after receipt of the complaint.

b. Process

1) A notice of removal must be filed in both state and federal court since this notice will effectively remove the action to federal court without further court orders for federal question jurisdiction.

c. Exception in Diversity Cases

1) If removal is sought based entirely on diversity jurisdiction, the claim may only be removed if no D is a citizen of the state in which the action was filed. This exception does not apply to removal based on federal question jurisdiction.

2) If removal is based on diversity, the action can’t be removed more than one year after it’s commenced.

                        d. Exceptions to Removal

1) Civil actions brought in state court under the following circumstances may never be removed to federal court:

a) An action against a railroad or its receivers or trustees

b) An action against a carrier or its receivers or trustees to recover damages for delay, loss, or injury of shipments

c) An action arising under the workman compensation laws of that state

d) An action arising under Section 40302 of the Violence Against Women Act

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