If you’ve ever had to file a case or been a party in a lawsuit, you’ve likely come across the terms court venue and court jurisdiction. While the terms are similar, both ultimately affect where a case will be heard and who will hear the case. Court venue seems small, but impacts the legal process, and getting it wrong is likely to cause a headache for the plaintiff party. Here’s a quick review of what court venue is — and why it matters.
Please note, there are different requirements for civil and criminal cases. Here, we will discuss general definitions and rules related to civil case court venue.
What is Court Venue?
Venue, in the common sense of the word, refers to the location where something takes place. Court venues are no different. When used in a legal sense, venue or court venue refers to the county, district or court where a case must or should be held. The venue applicable to a case depends on a court’s jurisdiction, or authority to make a decision in a case.
What is Court Jurisdiction?
Courts must have personal and subject matter jurisdiction over a case for the final decision to be valid. Personal jurisdiction refers to the authority a court has over the persons involved in the case, primarily over the defendant or property involved in the dispute. The court must have the legal ability to pass judgments over that party. Subject matter jurisdiction is the court’s authority to hear particular types of cases and pass decisions. In the case of initial filings, the court must have original jurisdiction (the right to first hear a case) as well.
Different courts have differing levels of authority to hear and settle disputes. In civil cases, the authority to hear cases is often segmented between different courts based on the suit size, or the dollar amount associated with the case. In Florida, for example, county courts can settle disputes with up to $15,000 in question. For matters dealing with more than $15,000, civil cases must be handled by a circuit court. To learn if a court has jurisdiction over a case, it is best to consult local court structure documentation and the website(s) of the courts you’re considering filing in.
How is Court Venue Decided?
Court venue is set into a lawsuit by the plaintiff or their attorney in initial case documentation. The filing party must file the case in the correct venue in order for a court to pass judgment. When selecting the venue for civil cases, one must consider the case type in accordance with local laws.
Determining the best location to use when selecting the proper venue varies based on the case type as well as local regulations. Generally in civil court, where the defendant lives and the extent to which the lawsuit is tied to a specific location are key considerations when determining venue. Lawsuits against businesses are usually tied to the location of the business. Consumer debt lawsuits involving collections must involve the relevant court closest to the defendant’s home address. Personal injury incidents may need to be filed at the location closest to the site of the incident.
Based on the case and what a determination is about, plaintiffs must file in the court closest to that determining location. Always check on the laws in your area to see how local regulations impact venue. If you’re attempting to navigate these rules outside of the legal profession, seek professional legal counsel as appropriate.
Can Venue be Contested?
Submitting documents to the right court is in the hands of the plaintiff. It is entirely possible to submit documents and get a lawsuit going in the wrong civil court. In fact, it’s an issue that can lead to a dismissal in civil cases. In a dismissal, the court essentially stops the legal process in response to a valid complaint against why the case should not move forward. After a dismissal, should the plaintiff wish to continue to pursue a case, they must restart the legal process in the correct court, if allowed by the judge at the time of dismissal — a dismissal without prejudice. This ultimately delays procedures and final determinations or could prevent the case from being heard again, if dismissed with prejudice.
While motions to dismiss are normally brought forth by the defendant, in the case of proper venue, the judge or court can move sua sponte and dismiss the case without input from either party in the lawsuit.
Always Double Check Court Venue
Confirming venue is a quick and easy point to double-check to help ensure success in any legal process. Or at least, prevent a case from getting called out in court. If you’re dealing with one case it’s not a hassle. However, if you’re an attorney whose firm deals in cases in the thousands each month, the task can be daunting. There are ways to automate the venue selection process and some legal services providers have specialized tools available to help determine proper venue.
Next week on “Between the Lines”, we’ll take a look at the venue selection tool that ABC Legal Services uses to help its small claims customers find the right venue for their cases. If you’re interested in more legal news and the latest in legal tech, subscribe to the ABC Legal blog to get a weekly newsletter sent directly to your inbox.
About ABC Legal
With more than 2,000 process servers across the U.S. and 75 countries, ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing provider, as well as the Acting Central Authority to the U.S. Department of Justice. Our digital approach saves valuable time and resources, and our cloud-based solutions are compatible for use on desktop, browser, and smartphones. Docketly — an ABC Legal subsidiary — provides appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. Learn more at www.abclegal.com.