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State Court Subject Matter Jurisdiction – Explained

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "State Court Subject Matter Jurisdiction – Explained," in The Business Professor, updated January 3, 2015, last accessed March 30, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/state-subject-matter-jurisdiction/.
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State Court Subject Matter Jurisdiction
What is Subject Matter Jurisdiction in State Court? State Courts Subject-Matter Jurisdiction is based upon presence within the state.

Next Article: State and Federal Trial Courts Hear State and Federal Cases


What is the State Court’s Subject-matter Jurisdiction?

General subject-matter jurisdiction means the state court may hear any type of case under state law. A state court of general jurisdiction has subject-matter jurisdiction in either of the following situations:

  • an act violates a state criminal law and was committed within the state;
  • a civil dispute involves a state law, or
  • a citizen of the state is a party to a civil action.

Example: Tom is from Texas and Kay is from Kansas. Tom sues Kay in a Kansas court for a breach of contract that took place in Texas. Even though the breach of contract did not happen in Kansas, the court has subject-matter jurisdiction in the case based upon its personal jurisdiction over Kay as a citizen.

A state court with limited jurisdiction can only hear cases expressly allowed by the law creating the special court. In most states the state legislature will authorize special courts of limited jurisdiction. These courts are commonly limited by the type of case that it can hear or based upon the dollar amount in controversy.

  • Example: Magistrate court in Georgia, for example, cannot hear a lawsuit alleging more than $15,000 in damages because the amount exceeds the limits of its jurisdiction. South Carolina has a special circuit for family law cases.

Discussion: Do you think it is important for a state to always have a court of general jurisdiction? Why do you think that states create courts of limited jurisdiction? Do these limited courts imply a lack of seriousness or professionalism in those courts? Does a court of general jurisdiction (particularly the judge) have the expertise to preside over all cases without a court of special jurisdiction?


Practice Question: Lilly is from Texas. While in Arizona, she gets into a physical altercation with Mitchel. She is the aggressor and injures Mitchel very badly. Lilly leaves Arizona and returns to Texas. Mitchel presses criminal charges against Lilly in Arizona. Further, he seeks to sue her in civil court to recover damages for the injuries he suffered. What are the grounds for the Arizona court exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over the criminal and civil law actions?

Proposed Answer

  • Arizona has personal jurisdiction over the matter for criminal or civil cases. A state has subject matter jurisdiction over criminal conduct taking place within the state. The same is true for personal jurisdiction in civil court. The Arizona state court will issue an arrest warrant for Lilly’s arrest. Mitchel will employ the state’s long-arm statute to serve Lilly with a summons outside of Arizona’s borders.

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