Personal jurisdiction refers to the ability and authority of a court in a state to have jurisdiction over the parties to a dispute. Personal jurisdiction operates on a state-by-state basis. So, if any court in the state has personal jurisdiction over you that means all the courts about state and personal jurisdiction over you. A small claims court, like any court, must have personal jurisdiction over the parties in order to render a decision. The most important concept in understanding personal jurisdiction is that the parties must have some connection to the form in order for the court to have jurisdiction over them. In other words you can’t be sued in Alaska because of a case that happened in Florida. If the parties have never been to Alaska or ever done business in Alaska, Alaska courts do not have personal jurisdiction over them. They are in cases in our federal court system were litigants have argued about personal jurisdiction for years all the way to the Supreme Court.
Issues of personal jurisdiction will arise when the litigants reside in different states. If you reside in California and you get into a car accident while traveling in Nevada and then return to your home state you can’t assume that you can bring an action in a California court based on that accident. You can however, bring your action in Nevada because that’s where the accident took place. The driver of the car in Nevada that struck your car doesn’t necessarily have any connection with California. He or she may never have been to California. As such the Nevada driver cannot be sued in California because California courts, small claims or otherwise, do not have personal jurisdiction over the Nevada driver.
Personal Jurisdiction in Small Claims Court
A court will have personal jurisdiction over the parties to the dispute if any of the following is true:
- The court will have personal jurisdiction over any party that resides in the jurisdiction.
- The court will have personal jurisdiction over any person who did business in the jurisdiction because that person is said to have availed themselves of the benefits and protections of the laws of that jurisdiction.
- The court will have personal jurisdiction over any person who owns property in that jurisdiction.
- If one or more the parties wave in the objections to personal jurisdiction.
In small claims court if all the parties to the dispute reside in the same state than personal jurisdiction will never come up as an issue. If, however, the parties to dispute reside in different states than personal jurisdiction may be an issue. Plaintiffs must consider carefully a defendant’s connection to the state before blindly charging ahead. Defendant’s, on the other hand, have an opportunity to avoid liability if they can successfully argue that personal jurisdiction does not attach to them.