In Personam Jurisdiction Overview (Definition And Examples) (2023)

What is in personam jurisdiction?

How do you determine a court’s personal jurisdiction over a case?

What are some in personam jurisdiction examples?

In this article, we will break down the notion of in personam jurisdiction so you know all there is to know about it.

We will look at the legal definition of in personam jurisdiction, look at the criteria considered by the courts to decide on personal jurisdiction, look at the difference with subject-matter jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction, the difference with in rem jurisdiction and more.

Are you ready?

Let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

In personam jurisdiction

In personam” means “against the person”.

In personam jurisdiction means having jurisdiction over a person.

For a court of law to have the power to render a decision affecting a person’s rights and obligations, the court must have personal jurisdiction over the person.

We call this the personal jurisdiction of the court over a defendant.

Without in personam jurisdiction over a person, the court cannot render a judgment legally binding a person.

Definition of in personam jurisdiction

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, they define in personam jurisdiction as:

“In personam refers to courts’ power to adjudicate matters directed against a party, as distinguished from in-rem proceedings over disputed property.

A court with jurisdiction over a particular location may exercise in personam jursidiction over a person who resides, maintains connections, or is served notice of legal proceedings in that location.”

What’s notable with this legal definition is that a court having jurisdiction over a particular location can exercise power against a person who “resides, maintains connections, or is served notice of legal proceedings in that location”.

Personal jurisdiction meaning

Personal jurisdiction means that a court has the legal authority to render a judgment against an individual affecting the person’s rights or binding them to legal obligations.

In an “in personam” case, the court has jurisdiction over a person whereas an “in rem” case, the court has jurisdiction over property located within its jurisdiction.

What determines a court’s jurisdiction?

To establish what determines a court’s personal jurisdiction, the courts have defined several factors or tests to assess their jurisdiction over a defendant.

This is important particularly when you may have personal jurisdiction issues with respect to different State courts but also with Federal courts.

The following tests have been adopted over the years to determine whether or not a court can exercise in personam jurisdiction over a defendant:

  1. General vs specific jurisdiction
  2. Territoriality test
  3. Contracts test
  4. Overall reasonableness test
  5. “Stream of Commerce” test

General vs specific jurisdiction

Under the general jurisdiction vs specific jurisdiction, a court may exercise general jurisdiction on any claim asserted against a defendant when that person resides in the court’s state.

Specific jurisdiction is when a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident of the state for specific matters.

Territoriality test

Under the territoriality test, the court will exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant when the defendant resides in the state where the lawsuit is instituted or an injurious event took place in the court’s territory.

The court will assess the defendant’s physical and geographical location to assess if it has in personal jurisdiction.

Contacts test

Under the contacts test, the court will assess whether or not it would be fair to hear the matter in its state versus another state in light of the defendant’s connection with the states in question.

Typically, the contact with a state must be substantial for a court to accept personal jurisdiction over a defendant.

Overall reasonableness test

The overall reasonableness test requires that a court assesses a defendant’s connection with the state along with what is just in the circumstances along with fair play between the parties.

“Stream of Commerce” test

This test has been adopted in product liability cases where the court will accept personal jurisdiction when a company’s products were destined to be purchased by consumers in its state of jurisdiction.

In rem vs in personam jurisdiction

In rem jurisdiction is when a court asserts jurisdiction over real property located in its territory.

For example, if a person owns a parcel of land or real estate property in the court’s state or jurisdiction, the government may file legal proceedings against the property for unpaid taxes.

This is an example of an in rem jurisdiction.

On the other hand, when dealing with an in personam jurisdiction vs in rem, the court will assert jurisdiction against the defendant as a person.

According to the rules of jurisdiction, a court will have in personam jurisdiction when the defendant to a lawsuit resides in its state.

Subject-matter jurisdiction vs personal jurisdiction

Subject-matter jurisdiction is different than personal jurisdiction.

When we refer to a court’s subject-matter jurisdiction, we are referring to the type of legal matters the law authorizes the court to hear.

For example, a bankruptcy court has the power and authority to hear bankruptcy cases.

As such, the subject-matter of bankruptcy will fall under the jurisdiction of the court designated by law.

On the other hand, personal jurisdiction has less to do with the type of legal proceedings but where a lawsuit can be filed.

For example, to sue a person living in New York, you must sue the defendant before the New York courts.

The courts in New York will have personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

If you sue a person domiciled in New York in Chicago, the courts in Chicago will not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Territorial jurisdiction vs personal jurisdiction

Territorial jurisdiction is not the same thing as personal jurisdiction.

For a court to have territorial jurisdiction, it must have the power over people or events happening within its designated geographic territory.

For example, if a person receives a speeding ticket in Flordia, then the Florida courts will have territorial jurisdiction over the case.

If an accident happened in a particular city or town, the courts of that city or town will have territorial jurisdiction.

Waiver of in personam jurisdiction

A defendant has the ability to waive the in personam jurisdiction of the court.

For example, if a defendant lives in Florida, the courts of Florida will have in personam jurisdiction over the person.

In other words, the courts of Florida have the power to render a judgement against the person residing in Florida.

However, say for instance that a lawsuit is filed in California against a person residing in Florida.

The rule is that a California court will not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant residing in Florida.

However, the defendant may choose not to challenge the lack of personal jurisdiction of the California court and waive its right to do so.

What is an example of personal jurisdiction

To better understand the concept, it’s useful to look at an example of in personam jurisdiction.

Example 1

John lives in Texas and Peter in Florida.

Peter wants to sue John for certain damages.

If Peter sues John in Texas, the Texas courts will have personam jurisdiction over John to hear the case.

If Peter sues John in Flordia, the courts in Flordia will not have personal jurisdiction to hear the case against John.

Example 2

Let’s look at another in personam jurisdiction example.

John lives in Texas.

When John was on vacation in Florida, he purchased jewelry from a jewelry store in Flordia.

When he returned home, he realized that the jeweller sold him a fake product.

John cannot sue the jeweller in Taxes who does not have personal jurisdiction over the jeweller.

He must sue the jeweller in Florida.

Frequently asked questions

What is in personam proceedings?

If a lawsuit is brought against a person and not a property, then we can quality that legal proceeding as an in persona proceeding.

As such, the court must have jurisdiction of the defendant’s person to be able to render a judgment binding the person or affecting the rights of the defendant.

Typically, a court will have personam jurisdiction over a defendant domiciled in its state or if the person was served legal proceedings in its state.

What is an in personam judgment?

An in personam judgment is a judgment rendered by a court against a person.

As a result, the judgment targets directly the defendant.

An in personam judgment can be enforced against the defendant where the person is located.

What is an in personam jurisdiction?

An in personam jurisdiction is when a court has the power to render judgment against a defendant as a person.

For a court to have personal jurisdiction, typically, the defendant must be domiciled or resident of the court’s state, be served legal proceedings in the court’s state or have a strong connection with the state.

In some cases, establishing personal jurisdiction may not be as straightforward.

As such, the courts have defined personal jurisdiction tests to assess if they can exercise personal jurisdiction over a person or not.

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