The world is becoming an ever-smaller place. With the Internet creating
a "place" that exists apart from traditional notions of states,
countries, or even continents, borders sometimes seem like an old-fashioned
concept. Nonetheless, borders do matter when it comes to the law (as anyone
who has watched offenders speed across the border in a movie will recall).
In both the civil and criminal systems, jurisdiction is a key principle
that ensures borders are respected. Issues of civil jurisdiction are particularly
important to our Northwest Florida injury law firm given how close we
are to two other states and the fact that tourism regularly brings out-of-state
visitors to our area.
Cooperation Across Jurisdictions in Criminal Law Enforcement
On the criminal side, being located near the state border makes cooperation
critical; a Florida patrolman may not be able to follow a drunk driver
across the border and vice versa, but if peers can communicate and cooperate,
everyone benefits. This week, WMBB wrote about a "Hands Across the
Border" initiative through which Florida, Alabama, and Georgia law
enforcement groups are partnering to save lives during the upcoming holiday
weekend. Specifically, they are working together to combat drunk drivers
and marking the 23rd year of these joint efforts.
Police are being extra-vigilant since, as Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts
notes, it is "a very deadly time of year" and the roads are
busy with people flocking to our local beaches. Agencies are paying extra
attention to the US 231 corridor and Highway 90, including the use of
undercover officers and sobriety checkpoints. The various agencies in
all three states are working to ensure everyone returns home safe and
encouraging drivers to be alert, to be smart, and to practice defensive
Civil Jurisdiction Part One - Subject Matter
Borders are also an issue on the civil side of the court system. In order
for a court to be able to hear a case, the case must be within the judicial
"borders" or, in more formal terms, the court must have jurisdiction
over both the subject matter and the parties. On the subject matter side,
personal injury cases typically fall under the jurisdiction of the state
courts where the injury occurred or the parties are located. In Florida,
county courts hear civil disputes that involve under $15,000 and circuit
courts hear civil cases involving higher amounts. There are situations
in which an injury case might be heard in a federal court, but the subject
matter requirements are a bit more complex.
Civil Jurisdiction Part Two - Personal Jurisdiction
Personal jurisdiction is about the court's authority to decide a case
involving the parties, particularly the defendant. If the civil law didn't
place limits on personal jurisdiction, you could find yourself being sued
in a far-flung state even if you'd never been to the state, never
done business there, and had no involvement whatsoever with the state.
Generally speaking (and greatly simplifying a complex inquiry), a party
must either reside within the court's geographic area or have significant
contacts with the area in order to give a court jurisdiction over the
party. Florida's long-arm statute provides an overview of acts that
confer jurisdiction over a non-resident and also allow a court to call
that non-resident before the tribunal.
Ensuring Procedural Rules are Satisfied and Our Client's Case is Heard
Suppose our client is a Florida resident who was injured by a Georgia resident
who was driving drunk on a Panama City roadway and there is more than
$15,000 at stake (note: we also work with clients from other states who
were injured while visiting our region, see the link below for more details).
Both forms of jurisdiction are met and a local circuit court can hear
the case. The jurisdictional analysis can get much more complex, especially
when multiple parties are involved. Importantly, even in cases where subject
matter and personal jurisdiction are relatively straightforward, an initial
Complaint must detail both or it can be tossed out of court.
Even in today's world, place and details matters. Jurisdiction is an
important issue for both the criminal and civil systems. The police focus
on jurisdiction when enforcing the law and our firm focuses on jurisdiction
when representing the wrongfully injured. As a Panama City plaintiffs'
law firm, one of our jobs is ensuring that our client's case is brought
in the right court. While civil jurisdiction may not inspire a movie chase
scene, it is still important to keeping the legal system in working order.
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