Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Definition of the Month of February 2012: Jurisdiction

research easy discoverOne thing that scares people most about law and legal things is that they don't know the definitions of most words.  It's the not knowing that scares the bejesus out of them.  Knowing this, what I'm going to do from here on out is every so often define some of the words and phrases used most often (and maybe even a few that aren't) so that you can go into court or your local county law library and sound like you know what you're talking about.  So that you know, the resource that I use to find all of my definitions is called Black's Law Dictionary (West).  Black's is the industry standard for law dictionaries.

So, today's word is JURISDICTION and it is defined as: a governing body's general power/authority to exercise authority over all person's and things within its territory.

In California, there are three court JURISDICTIONs:

  1. Superior Court (i.e. lowest level court)
      Small Claims: matters from $0-$10,000
      Limited Court: matters from $10,001-$25,000;
      Unlimited Court: matters from $25,001+
  2. Courts of Appeal: cases appealed from the superior court
  3. California Supreme Court: has discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all cases reviewed by the Courts of Appeal (meaning they can refuse to hear cases on appeal if they wish) and California state death penalty cases.
What would be great if every state court system were the same. In the New York court system, the supreme court is the lowest court. The thing is, every state does it's own thing.  What you need to do is to locate your state's court website to see what is located where.

Now, you might ask (go ahead, ask) why is it important to know about JURISDICTION?  It's important because say you lived in California but you were vacationing in Wyoming and you get rear-ended.  In what state do you sue for damages (because now your car is totaled and they say it was all your fault that they weren't watching where they were going)?  

Let's try another one.  Say you bought a pair of shoes online (with a company based in Georgia).  When they arrived at your house, the shoes were not only the wrong size, but you only got one shoe and now the company won't give you the other shoe or your money back.  Where do you go to get recourse?  In what state to you file suit?  Did you even read the fine print when you bought the shoes (because you know it's where they're going to talk about JURISDICTION).

Thus, the reason it's so important to understand JURISDICTION is so you don't go waste your time and money file a law suit in the wrong court.  A great resource on JURISDICTION can be found in Jurisdiction and Forum Selection, 2d by Robert C. Casad (West).

So, whether you know or think you know or know that you don't know what you thought you knew, know that the best jurisdiction for whatever it is you do need is at your local county law library (because we always know what you don't know that you need).