There are also limits on the types of people a court can give orders to. This is called personal jurisdiction.
In order to correctly file a case, a plaintiff must make sure that the court they are filing in has both subject matter and personal jurisdiction.
The plaintiff must also file in the right venue.
Subject matter jurisdiction
Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear certain types of cases.
There are two types of courts in Illinois: state courts and federal courts.
Circuit courts in Illinois have jurisdiction over all cases except:
- Cases under federal law. Examples:
- Bankruptcy proceedings
- Patent and copyright cases
- Crimes against the United States
- Proceedings to recover or enforce a fine imposed by federal law
- Private damage actions under the federal antitrust laws
- Administrative cases (these go to an administrative agency first, and then can be appealed to the circuit court)
- Some matters that go straight to the Illinois Supreme Court. Examples:
- Cases about redistricting the Illinois Senate or House of Representatives
- Cases about whether the governor can serve or resume office
If a person doesn't like how a circuit court decided a case, they can appeal it to the Illinois Court of Appeals. There are 5 courts that each cover a district in the state.
From there, they can also appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee that the court will agree to take the case.
If a case is in federal court, it will start in district court. There are three districts in Illinois: Northern, Central, and Southern.
Federal courts usually only have jurisdiction over cases that involve federal law. They can also hear cases that involve state law, but only if the parties live in different states, and the amount they are arguing over is more than $75,000.
If a person doesn't like how the district court decided the case, they can appeal it to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. From there, they can appeal it to the US Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee that the court will agree to hear the case.
Note: The names of courts in the state system and federal system can be confusing. In Illinois, the trial courts are "circuits" and the appellate courts are "districts." In federal court, the trial courts are "districts" and the appellate courts are "circuits."
The court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant if there is a reason for jurisdiction and the defendant has minimum contacts with Illinois.
Reasons for jurisdiction
The court must have a reason for jurisdiction. In other words, something that makes it fair for the court to be able to give orders to the defendant.
Some things give the court the ability to give orders to the defendant about anything. This is called general jurisdiction.
Other things only allow the court to give the defendant orders about one type of thing. This is called specific jurisdiction.
Finally, the defendant can agree to let the case move forward without arguing that the court doesn't have jurisdiction. This is called a waiver of jurisdiction.
The court has general jurisdiction over the defendant if:
- The defendant lives in Illinois;
- The defendant is a business in Illinois; or
- The defendant is served in Illinois.
In these cases, the court can give the defendant orders in any type of case.
Even if the defendant doesn't live in Illinois, and isn't served here, the court might still have jurisdiction. This happens when the defendant does something in Illinois or does something that has an impact in Illinois. For example:
- The defendant conducts business within Illinois;
- The defendant injures someone or damages something in Illinois; or
- The defendant owns, uses, or possesses real estate in Illinois.
Keep in mind that the court can only give the person orders about the thing that gave it jurisdiction. For example, if a person owns real estate in Illinois, a court in Illinois can force them to not keep dangerous animals there. But the court can't force the owner to pay child support, unless there is some other reason for jurisdiction.
See the full list of Reasons for specific jurisdiction in Illinois.
Even if the court doesn't have general or specific jurisdiction, the defendant can agree to let the court make a decision in the case anyway. This is called a waiver of jurisdiction. The defendant does this by filing an Appearance in the case.
In addition to having a reason for jurisdiction, a court must decide if the defendant has "minimum contacts" with Illinois. If the defendant doesn't have minimum contacts, then it would be unfair for an Illinois court to give them orders, so the court will not do it.
Minimum contacts can get very complex. If you think there might be an issue with minimum contacts in your case, you should Get legal help.
Federal courts in Illinois will usually follow the same personal jurisdiction rules as state courts in Illinois.
After deciding whether a court has jurisdiction, you have to make sure it is a proper venue. Some courts might have jurisdiction, but not be a proper venue to hear the case. If you file in them, the defendant can file a motion to transfer the case to a different court.
For individual defendants, venue is proper in:
- Any county in the state in which the defendant is a resident;
- Any county where something happened that is what the case is about; and
- Any county in the state, if all the defendants don't live in Illinois.
For corporations, venue is proper in:
- The county where it has its registered office;
- The county where it has any other office; and
- Any county where it is doing business at the time the action is filed.
For partnerships, venue is proper in:
- Any county where it has an office where it is doing business; and
- Any county of residence of any partner.
Venue is proper in:
- A district where any defendant lives, if all defendants are residents of Illinois;
- A district where the events happened, or the property is, that led to the case;
- If nothing else, a district that has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.
Updated: July 2017