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Civil Procedure 2022

Preliminaries 2: Subject Matter Jurisdiction

This unit seeks to answer two questions: when may a case be brought in federal court? When must a case be brought in federal court? We will spend most of our time on the first question.

We will begin understanding the strategic reasons why a litigant might prefer to be in federal or state court. We will then turn to the doctrine on the matter, which has some constitutional law but is mainly governed by statute.


4.1 Diagram, Basics of SMJ provides you with a diagram we will “work our way up to,” capturing what you will learn in the first parts of this unit. It will not make much sense until we are further into the unit.


4.2 Introduction & Theory explains the importance of subject matter jurisdiction to the U.S. adjudicative system and its constitutional moorings. It also introduces you to the strategic considerations that motivate litigants to choose a federal court versus a state court when both are available for a particular subject matter through two classic readings on the so-called “parity debate.”


4.3 Diversity Jurisdiction teaches you one of the two main forms of subject matter jurisdiction that are part of this course: Diversity subject matter jurisdiction (the other being Federal Question subject matter jurisdiction). It begins by explaining the constitutional basis for giving federal courts diversity subject matter jurisdiction and its two main requirements: (1) the amount-in-controversy is met, and (2) the parties are completely diverse. It then explains some of the justifications offered for allowing cases that meet these requirements into federal court – you may find them sensible or outdated.

We then look at the principal statute, 28 U.S.C § 1332, and do a deeper dive into each of the two requirements. For the amount-in-controversy requirement you will learn, among other things, how the doctrine treats a good faith claim for a certain amount of compensatory damages, how it values injunctions and punitive damages, and how to consider the amount-in-controversy in multiparty litigation (sometimes called “aggregation rules”). For complete diversity, you will learn how to determine the citizenship of a natural person, a corporation, an unincorporated association, etc. Finally, we discuss two judicially created exceptions.


4.4 Federal Question introduces the more complicated second type of federal subject matter jurisdiction that is a focus of our course: Federal Question subject matter jurisdiction. We will begin with a  brief introduction to its history and its constitutional requirements (including discussing the Osborn case). As we will see repeatedly in this course, the Constitution provides the outer boundary of what Congress could authorize, but in fact, Congress has not gone to the “Constitutional limit;” we must study the authorizing statute to see how far Congress has allowed the federal courts to go. We will spend more time on the statutory grant: 28 U.S.C § 1331. The words in the statute are extremely short “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United State”; but through a series of cases, the Supreme Court has made the analysis much more complicated.

We first discuss the “where” question—where in the case must the federal question be? We will see the answer given in the famous Mottley case is “in a well-pleaded complaint,” but this is less straightforward than it sounds. We will then move on to a series of cases that try to answer the “what” question, as I call it—what does it mean for a case to arise under federal law. While we will learn a rule of thumb (the so-called “Holmes creation test” that offers an easy rule that applies in the vast majority of cases, we will then turn to the small minority of cases where the rule fails: those where state law creates a cause of action but there is a federal element “floating around” (to put it colloquially) in the well-plead complaint. We will discuss a series of cases where the Supreme Court has tried to answer as to what to do in such a case and discuss where the doctrine currently is. I consider this material one of the three most intellectually challenging parts of the course, so be warned!


4.5 Supplemental Jurisdiction answers the following question: when one has a jurisdictionally insufficient claim in the litigation and a jurisdictionally sufficient claim (i.e., one that has diversity or federal question subject matter jurisdiction or both), under what circumstances may the insufficient claim be brought along into federal court alongside the sufficient one? I often analogize this to a party invite. If you hold an invitation, when may you bring a plus one? Gibbs will sketch an answer as a constitutional matter, but once again, the statutory authorization will prove narrower. We will discuss three cases in which the Supreme Court tried to provide an answer to the scope of supplemental jurisdiction before there was a dedicated statute on the matter. We will then discuss how Congress partially codified the results of these cases in the relevant statute 28 U.S.C § 1367. We will only briefly introduce the complexities of applying the statute because we will return to it in much greater depth in Unit 8 (Expanding the Lawsuit Joinder of Claims and Parties, and Amendments).