Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



In United States jurisprudence, two quite different legal concepts are both labeled jurisdiction. In personam or personal jurisdiction refers to the extent to which a court has power over a particular defendant. Subject matter jurisdiction is an entirely different concept that addresses the question of whether a particular law is intended to apply to different kinds of conduct. In the antitrust area, for example, obtaining subject matter jurisdiction depends upon whether conduct within the United States has a sufficient impact on interstate commerce or foreign conduct has a sufficient impact on United States domestic or export commerce to be within the reach of the Sherman or Clayton Acts.

In personam or personal jurisdiction is an important threshold issue that often arises in litigation which has an international dimension. The outer limits of personal jurisdiction have constitutional due process ramifications. To comport with "fair dealing and substantial justice," a defendant can be sued only in that jurisdiction where he has sufficient minimum contacts. The content of this standard is delineated in a large body of case law.

Related to the notion of personal jurisdiction, the question of venue must often be considered in litigation. What is the right court in which to sue the defendant? A number of statutes determine the circumstances under which a defendant can be sued in a particular court. In an antitrust case, section 12 of the Clayton Act, a special venue statute, allows suit to be brought in any jurisdiction where the defendant resides or is found or transacts business.