Subject-matter jurisdiction is a court’s power to decide the type of dispute involved in the case. Criminal courts, for example, cannot hear civil matters. Similarly, a $500,000 claim for breach of contract cannot be pursued in a small claims court. Even a court with subjectmatter jurisdiction cannot decide a civil case unless it also has either in personam jurisdiction or in rem jurisdiction. In personam jurisdiction is based on the residence, location, or activities of the defendant.
A state court has in personam jurisdiction over defendants who are citizens or residents of the state (even if situated outof- state), who are within the state’s borders when process is served on them (even if nonresidents), 1 or who consent to the court’s authority (for instance, by entering the state to defend against the plaintiff’s claim). The same principle governs federal courts’ in personam jurisdiction over defendants.
In addition, most states have enacted “long-arm” statutes that give their courts in personam jurisdiction over certain out-of-state defendants. Under these statutes, nonresident individuals and businesses become subject to the jurisdiction of the state’s courts by, for example, doing business within the state, contracting to supply goods or services within the state, or committing a tort (a civil wrong) within the state. Some long-arm statutes are phrased with even broader application in mind.
Federal law, moreover, permits federal courts to rely on state longarm statutes as a basis for obtaining in personam jurisdiction over nonresident defendants.