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Chapter Two

The Court Systems

Federal Judges

Serve during g ood behavior

May be removed if Congress impeaches them for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors (vague definition)

House of Representatives

State Judges

Chosen by a variety of methods

Generally serve for a fixed term

Judicial Immunity

Absolute, even when the judge acts maliciously

Organization of the Court Systems

Original Jurisdiction

Appellate Jurisdiction

Davis v. West

Issue: HRS sued Davis for an unpaid bill and received a default judgment. Radoff was appointed as the receiver and sent a letter to the defendant’s bank demanding payment, which was received. Davis sued Radoff for abuse of process. Is Radoff protected by derived judicial immunity?

Rule: Derived judicial immunity attaches to the delegation, appointment or court employment of a person acting in such capacity. Test: Is the person seeking immunity intimately associated with the judicial process and does that person exercise discretionary judgment comparable to that of the judge?

Application: A court-appointed receiver acts as an arm of the court and is immune from liability for actions grounded in his conduct as a receiver.

Conclusion: The trial court properly granted summary judgment on Radoff’s motion for summary judgment.

Appellate courts are concerned with correcting errors in the application of the law or procedures

The Federal Courts

Federal District Courts

The court of original jurisdiction


Appointed for an eight-year term

Federal Appellate Courts

Generally use a three-judge panel

En banc proceeding involves all the active judges in a circuit

Specialized Federal Courts


Judges serve a fourteen-year term

Federal Claims

Monetary claims against the federal government

Court of International Trade

Tax Court

Is not part of the judiciary, but the legislative branch

Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Patent, trademark and copyright cases

U.S. Supreme Court

Primarily an appellate review court

Writ of certiorari

The rule of four

State Courts

State Courts of Original Jurisdiction

State Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction

Generally a right to appeal to the first level of appellate review; discretionary above that

Rules of Civil Procedure





From “juris” meaning the law and “diction” meaning “to speak”

The authority or power to speak the law

When filing a lawsuit the plaintiff must choose a court that has both:

1. subject matter jurisdiction and 2. personal jurisdiction over the defendant or the property of the defendant

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Established by constitution or statute regarding the kinds of disputes a court may hear

May include an amount in controversy

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction in the Federal Courts

Federal Question

Generally includes cases where the U.S. is a party to the lawsuit or cases involving diversity of citizenship

Diversity of Citizenship

The parties must be from different states and the amount of controversy must exceed $75,000

Amount in Controversy

There is no dollar requirement for cases involving questions of federal law

Personal Jurisdiction

A court’s authority is generally limited to the boundaries of the state

Territorial jdx not an issue unless the defendant is not a resident of the state

In personam jurisdiction


Service of process

Usually by personal service

Default judgment

Jurisdiction over Out-of-State Defendants

Long-arm statute

Gives a court jurisdiction over some entities beyond a state’s borders

Jurisdiction over Out-of-State Business Defendants

Courts have jurisdiction over a business in three situations:

1. The court is in the state in which a corporation was incorporated 2. The court is in the state where the business has its headquarters or main plant; 3. The court is in a state in which the business is doing business (requires “minimum” contacts)

Blimka v. My Web Wholesalers, LLC

Issue: Blimka in Idaho ordered jeans from a company in Maine. When the requested quantity (quality) did not arrive, Blimka sued. Defendant was properly served in Maine but did not respond. The court issued a default judgment. Defendant claims the court lacked personal jdx.

Rule: An allegation of fraud is sufficient to invoke the state’s long-arm statute.

Application: Defendants purposefully directed their allegedly false representations into Idaho. Therefore, the exercise of personal jdx is presumed not to offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Conclusion: The district court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion for relief from judgment was not an abuse of discretion.

Jurisdiction over Property

In rem jurisdiction

Gives a court jdx over real estate, personal property and intangible property such as bank accounts and stocks located within a state.

Relations between the Court Systems

Exclusive Jurisdiction

Concurrent Jurisdiction

Where there is diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000

The dispute involves a federal question and Congress has not conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the federal courts

Federal Question Jurisdiction

Concurrent Jurisdiction and Removal

May give the defendant the right to remove a state court case to a federal court as long as all requirements are met for federal jdx.

Applying the Appropriate Law in Federal Court

Federal law or state?

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins

Issue: Plaintiff injured by a train in Pennsylvania. Plaintiff sued in federal court and argued that federal common law should apply. Erie argued that state common law should apply.

Rule: Equal protection of the law requires that Swift v. Tyson be overruled. Swift held that federal courts in diversity of citizenship cases need not apply state common law and are free to exercise an independent judgment of what the common law of the State is or should be.

Application: Except in matters governed by the Federal Constitution or Acts of Congress, the law to be applied in any case is the law of the State.

Conclusion: Pennsylvania law applies. Plaintiff was a trespasser and defendant is not liable for his injuries. The trial court’s decision is reversed.

Applying the Appropriate Law in State Court

Conflict-of-law or Choice-of-law

Generally, the law of the state in which the contract was made determines the interpretation; in tort cases, the law of the place where the tort occurred controls

Williamson Pounder Architects PC v. Tunica County, Miss.

Issue: Tunica County, Mississippi hired WPA, a Tennessee company to design and supervise construction of a park. One year later, Tunica wanted to increase the size of the project from
$18 million to $22 million. The County Administrator orally approved the increase. Tunica refused to pay the additional bills because the County Board of Supervisors did not approve the extra expenses. WPA sued in federal court. The contract stated that the law of Tennessee would govern. Tunica contended that Mississippi law should apply. The district court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.

Rule: The Mississippi Supreme Court decisions explain the state’s choice-of-law principles and rely on a center of gravity concept, which focuses on the state that has the most substantial contracts with the parties and subject matter of the action. This means that the law of a single state does not necessarily control all issues in the case and the center-of-gravity approach is applied to each issue. And, where the center-of-gravity indicates one state, if the other state’s law is contrary to the deeply ingrained and strongly felt public policy of this state, we may enforce this state’s law.

Application: Tennessee law violated Mississippi’s deeply ingrained public policy that oral contracts cannot be formed by or enforced against county boards of supervisors.

Conclusion: Mississippi law controls and the district court was correct to dismiss the claim.

Venue (forum)

The proper place for the trial

Change of Venue

Fair trial

Forum Non Conveniens

The original court has jurisdiction but another, more convenient court, should hear the case.…...

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