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Federal Personal Jurisdiction

9. How does a federal court get personal jurisdiction over someone in a civil case?

Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure lays out the process for a federal court establishing personal jurisdiction over a defendant. In summary, the federal court must employ the state law governing personal jurisdiction that is applicable in the state in which the federal court is located. The federal court adopting the state’s procedural law must subject the defendant to the same procedures as if the case were in state court. That is, the federal court will use the state’s procedural rules for serving process on individuals within the state’s borders and may also use the state’s long-arm statute to reach defendants outside of the state’s geographic boundary. As discussed further below, the long-arm statute is a special statute allowing the state to serve a summons on a defendant who is not physically located in the state.

•    Note: If the subject-matter of the case is exclusively federal, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow the federal court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant regardless of where she is located. That is, the federal court is not limited by the state’s service of process rules. Federal procedure allows for service of process anywhere in the United States and its territories.

•    Discussion: Why do you think that federal district courts use the procedural rules for service of process of the state in which the court is located? Is there an argument that federal courts should have their own uniform rules for service of process?

•    Practice Question: Lindsay, a Florida resident, entered into a services contract with Rachel, a Georgia resident. Rachel later failed to perform and breached the agreement. As a result of Rachel’s breach, Lindsay claims to have suffered damages in the amount of $100,000. Lindsay plans to bring a civil action against Rachel in the Federal District court located in Georgia. At the time, Florida allowed process servers to deliver service of process, but Georgia required service of process to be carried out by the local Sheriff’s office. Lindsay hired a Florida process server to deliver service of process to Rachel. What is the personal jurisdiction issue in this case?

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