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Exclusive Jurisdiction in Federal Courts

15 January, 2016 - 09:29

With two court systems, a plaintiff (or the plaintiff’s attorney, most likely) must decide whether to file a case in the state court system or the federal court system. Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over certain kinds of cases. The reason for this comes directly from the Constitution. Article III of the US Constitution provides the following:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

By excluding diversity cases, we can assemble a list of the kinds of cases that can only be heard in federal courts. The list looks like this:

  1. Suits between states. Cases in which two or more states are a party.
  2. Cases involving ambassadors and other high-ranking public figures. Cases arising between foreign ambassadors and other high-ranking public officials.
  3. Federal crimes. Crimes defined by or mentioned in the US Constitution or those defined or punished by federal statute. Such crimes include treason against the United States, piracy, counterfeiting, crimes against the law of nations, and crimes relating to the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce. However, most crimes are state matters.
  4. Bankruptcy. The statutory procedure, usually triggered by insolvency, by which a person is relieved of most debts and undergoes a judicially supervised reorganization or liquidation for the benefit of the person’s creditors.
  5. Patent, copyright, and trademark cases
    • Patent. The exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention for a specified period (usually seventeen years), granted by the federal government to the inventor if the device or process is novel, useful, and nonobvious.
    • Copyright. The body of law relating to a property right in an original work of authorship (such as a literary, musical, artistic, photographic, or film work) fixed in any tangible medium of expression, giving the holder the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, and display the work.
    • Trademark. A word, phrase, logo, or other graphic symbol used by a manufacturer or seller to distinguish its product or products from those of others.
  6. Admiralty. The system of laws that has grown out of the practice of admiralty courts: courts that exercise jurisdiction over all maritime contracts, torts, injuries, and offenses.
  7. Antitrust. Federal laws designed to protect trade and commerce from restraining monopolies, price fixing, and price discrimination.
  8. Securities and banking regulation. The body of law protecting the public by regulating the registration, offering, and trading of securities and the regulation of banking practices.
  9. Other cases specified by federal statute. Any other cases specified by a federal statute where Congress declares that federal courts will have exclusive jurisdiction.