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The Courts


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  • 1. The Court System and Jurisdiction
  • 2. U.S. Court System
    • Both the federal and state court systems are triangular
      • At the bottom there are many trial courts
      • There are fewer appeals courts and one supreme court
      • At the federal level there are
        • 646 District Court Judges
        • 13 Circuit Courts of Appeal
        • One Supreme Court with nine justices
  • 3. Trial Courts
      • Trial courts determine the facts and apply existing law to those facts
        • Juries are charged with making factual determinations , except when the parties waive their right to a jury, in which case
      • In general appellate courts will not hear appeals of jury verdicts unless there is evidence of jury tampering or some other procedural irregularity
  • 4. Appellate Courts
      • Appellate courts determine whether legal errors were made at the trial court level
        • Most appeals are denied, as trial court decisions are affirmed
        • Supreme courts can overrule decisions of appellate courts
      • The U.S. Supreme Court is almost entirely an appellate court
        • The U.S. Supreme agrees to hear only a fraction of the appeals made to it
        • New York vs New Jersey
  • 5. Appellate Courts
      • Main function of appellate courts is to review trial courts for possible errors of law
        • Possible errors of law include rulings the trial court on
          • Motions made by either party
          • Admission or non-admission of evidence
          • Instructions to juries
        • U.S. Courts of Appeals often hear appeals for decisions of administrative agencies such as the FTC, the PTO, and NLRB
      • Decisions of trial courts are only reversed when the errors made are judged material .
        • A mistake is material if it could have effected the outcome of the case.
  • 6. U.S. Supreme Court
      • Mainly hears appeals from cases that either
        • Have constitutional implications
        • Resolve differences among the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
        • Have significant social implications and are considered ripe--appropriate for resolution
      • Appeals to the Supreme Court are based on writs of certiorari (4 of 9 must vote to hear case)
      • Issues majority, concurring and dissenting opinions
  • 7. Specialized Courts
    • At both the federal and state levels there are specialized courts
      • At the federal level there are specialized courts of bankruptcy, tax court, military courts
      • At the state level there are specialized juvenile, probate, domestic relations courts
      • Specialized courts do not have jurisdiction to resolve disputes outside their subject matter.
  • 8. Trial Courts
      • In the federal courts, trial courts are called district courts
      • In state courts, trial courts are often divided between
        • District courts for lesser civil cases and criminal misdemeanors, and
        • Superior courts which hear major civil cases and criminal cases involving felonies
  • 9. State Courts
    • Unless a case in state courts involves federal law there are usually no appeals from state to federal court
      • Appeals from state supreme courts to federal court can take place when
        • It is a capital criminal case—it often involves allegations of violations of constitutional law
        • Claims are made by a party that state laws violate the Interstate Commerce Clause
        • Claims are made that state laws violate fundamental constitutional rights involving, for example, race, abortion, and due process.
  • 10. Jurisdiction
    • Defendants in civil cases can file a motion to dismiss based on a claim that the court selected by the plaintiff for the lawsuit
      • Does not have jurisdiction over the defendant
        • Or the subject matter of the dispute
    • A court has jurisdiction if it has power to resolve the dispute.
      • Two factors in determining jurisdiction:
        • Subject matter and geography
  • 11. Jurisdiction: Nomenclature
      • Trial courts have original jurisdiction
        • Obviously, appellate courts have appellate jurisdiction
      • In order to deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the trial court must have both :
        • Jurisdiction over the subject matter of the dispute and
        • Jurisdiction personally over the defendant
      • Obviously, a bankruptcy court does not subject matter jurisdiction to try a criminal case
        • Many trial courts have general jurisdiction to hear any case
  • 12. Jurisdiction of State Courts: Over the Person
    • Assume the plaintiff files suit against the defendant in the plaintiff’s state:
      • Clearly the state trial court has jurisdiction over the def., if the def. is a resident of the plaintiff’s state
        • A state court can exercise jurisdiction if the person
          • Did business within the state, such as sign or perform a contract, or
          • Committed a tort within the state, such as get involved in a traffic accident
      • States typically pass “Long Arm” statutes that extend the jurisdiction of state courts as far as is constitutionally permissible.
  • 13. Jurisdiction over the Person
      • Suppose the def. is a corporation or a business?
        • Jurisdiction depends on whether the out-of-state business satisfies the minimum contacts test:
          • The minimum contacts test is satisfied if the business owns property, rents office space, directs employees towards, or directs advertising toward the state
          • Without more, mail order companies are not subject to the jurisdiction of out-of-state courts
        • Conceptual test is whether the out-of-state company availed itself of the advantages of the state government?
          • If yes, then jurisdiction is fair and justified
  • 14. Jurisdiction over the Person
    • For web sites,
      • mere accessibility does not give out-of-state courts jurisdiction,
        • but if the web site interacts with customers through email or telephone it does…
        • Obviously, even a small amount of interaction between web sites and in-state residents is going to subject the web site to out-of-state courts
      • Web sites can easily avoid exercise of jurisdiction by out-of-state courts simply by have a choice of law clause in their Terms of Service agreement, which the user “agrees to” by browsing the web site.
  • 15. Jurisdiction: State Courts
      • In rem jurisdiction
        • If an out-of-state resident owns property within a state, that state’s courts have in rem jurisdiction over the property
      • Note further that the plaintiff always has the option of going to the defendant’s home state and suing him or her in that state,
        • If state courts in the pl.’s home state do not have jurisdiction
  • 16. Jurisdiction: Federal Courts
      • A plaintiff can file a lawsuit in federal court if
        • Federal question jurisdiction takes place
          • The claim (or defense) involves federal law
          • E.g., the plaintiff the defendant violated the Clean Water Act, which is a federal statute.
        • Diversity
          • The parties are located in separate states and
          • The amount in dispute involves more than $75,000
      • If the case is tried in fed. court, procedural law is governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Proc.
  • 17. Exclusive and Concurrent Jurisdiction
    • In many cases, plaintiff’s have a choice as to which court system (state or fed.) to file the claim because
      • Jurisdiction over the case is concurrent between federal and state courts
        • E.g., civil rights, securities, any claim based on diversity
      • In other cases, jurisdiction of fed. or state courts is exclusive:
        • Federal courts have exclusive juris. over patent cases, criminal cases and bankruptcy, to name just a few
        • State courts have exclusive juris. over domestic relations, juvenile court, in-state tort claims where diversity does not apply
  • 18. Exclusive and Concurrent Jurisdiction
      • Plaintiffs can file a suit in state court based on a violation of a federal statute,
        • unless the statute contains language that provides for exclusive juris. of fed. courts.
      • Defendant’s can remove a case to fed. court, if
        • The plaintiff had a choice between fed. and state court and chooses to file in state court
        • Def. may choose to remove a case to fed. court if the def. is concerned that a state court may favor the pl.
  • 19. Conflicts of Law
    • In some cases there is a genuine issue as to which state’s laws apply
      • Suppose a contract is signed in one state, but performed in another state?
      • In some cases the rules for determining choice of law are simple, i.e., where did the tort occur?
        • In other cases, the choice as to which state’s laws apply is complicated.
        • In contractual situations confusion can be avoided by having choice of law clauses in the contract, which is quite common
  • 20. Venue
      • Venue is the physical location of where the trial will take place
        • In criminal cases, motions to change venue are sometimes granted based on pre-trial publicity
          • A motion to change venue based on pre-trial publicity could be granted in a civil case also
        • At the state level a to change venue is a motion to change the location of the trial within the same state, whereas the same motion at the federal level is a motion to change the state where the trial takes place.
          • Sometimes venue is changed if going to court is very inconvenient for the defendant or witnesses
            • Motion to change based on forum non conveniens
            • If the motion is granted, the trial will take place in another state or at the fed. level.
  • 21. Standing to Sue: Justiciability
    • In order to get into court, the plaintiff must show
      • He or she has a real, current interest at stake
        • Examples, loss of freedom (possible incarceration), loss of property, loss of aesthetics if the person actually uses the park, loss of govt. benefits, loss of job etc.
    • In order to be justiciable the dispute must not be:
      • hypothetical (a dispute in the future),
      • moot (dispute already resolved), or
      • political (decisions that are within the discretion of Congress or the President).
    • Courts sometimes allow exceptions
  • 22. Judges and Judicial Officials
    • Federal judges are appointed for life
      • Cannot be removed unless there is a showing of malfeasance—bribery, treason, other crimes
        • Congress cannot reduce the pay of a sitting judge
    • State judges
      • Some are elected and some appointed
    • Judicial immunity applies for most of what judges do, but judges could be censored or removed under state codes of ethics for judges.