Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do NOT mess with subject matter jurisdiction.

For those of you lucky enough not to be in law school, subject matter jurisdiction describes the authority of a court ("jurisdiction") to hear a particular kind of case ("subject matter"). Federal courts (as opposed to State courts) have very limited subject matter jurisdiction, so they can only hear certain kinds of cases - for example, controversies between citizens of different states, or cases that deal with a question of federal law. This is the interesting stuff I get to learn in Civil Procedure I. Yippee!

Anyway, subject matter jurisdiction is a peculiar jurisdictional question because it involves the court policing itself. Even if both parties in a case decide they really, really, really want to be in Federal court instead of State court, the federal court can give them the hand and kick them out of the system if the type of case doesn't give the court subject matter jurisdiction. Apparently, this is a Very Big Deal to judges - at least, to the judges I had to read for class tomorrow.

In Randazzo v. Eagle-Pitcher Industries (117 F.R.D. 557), apparently the plaintiff's lawyer didn't bother to precisely say where the defendant was incorporated. The Federal court needed this information to decide whether there was diversity of citizenship (aka, whether the plaintiff and defendant were from separate states) so it could ensure that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The court gave the plaintiff's lawyer a 10-day do-over, and he apparently didn't fix his mistake. Judge Lord (don't you love these judges' names!) went a little nutso.

Plaintiff's counsel, apparently laboring under the impression that I am not dealing with a full deck and that my knowledge of diversity requirements is about equal to that of a low-grade moron, chose to disregard the directional signals posted in my memorandum. Counsel brazenly, discourteously, defiantly, arrogantly, insultingly and under the circumstances rather obtusely threw back into my face the very allegations I had held insufficient by reiterating and incorporating those same crippled paragraphs. The so-called "amended complaint" itself cheekily informs me that these paragraphs allege the states of incorporation OR (emphasis added) principal places of business of the defendant corporations. Of course, any law school student [hey, that's me! -sj] knows that both the state of incorporation and principal place of business must be diverse, but I suppose I can hardly expect any more from counsel whose familiarity with [the law] could be no more than a friendly wave from a distance visible only through a powerful telescope.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That has to be my favorite passage from any case I've read so far.