If you live in Cobb County and you have a personal injury lawsuit because
someone has harmed you, you can head down to the courthouse on the square
in Marietta and file suit against the person that harmed you, right? Not
always. Before you file a
Cobb County personal injury lawsuit, you have to determine whether the court has “jurisdiction”
over the person or the company you are suing.
So what is “jurisdiction”? Jurisdiction is the power to make
legal decisions that govern a person (or a company, if, for example, your
case is a Marietta product liability suit).
To give you an idea of why jurisdiction matters, let’s do what lawyers
call a “hypothetical”. A hypothetical is a made-up situation,
and lawyers use them to think through legal issues. Let’s say that
you walk out to your mailbox one day, and in your box you find an official-looking
letter postmarked Bali. You have never been to Bali, although it does
sound fun. You open up the letter and to your amazement read that a court
in Bali says that you owe one of Bali’s residents a million dollars.
You have never even heard of the person to whom you supposedly owe this
money. If that happened to you, you would feel unfairly treated, and rightly
so. Why on earth would a court in Bali have power over you if you have
never been there and have nothing to do with anyone from that court?
Jurisdiction is just a way of making sure that you have some reasonable
contact with a place before it makes legal decisions about your affairs.
By making rules about jurisdiction, the Georgia courts and the Georgia
legislature can make sure that it is fair for, say, a Henry County court
to make decisions that affect you. Of course, as our hypothetical shows,
the issue of jurisdiction is very much international. In fact, the issue
is so universally important that there is a international treaty about
it from the Hague Convention on Jurisdiction.
If a defendant believes that a court does not have jurisdiction over him,
the defendant can file a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal
jurisdiction. The defendant “has the burden of proving lack of jurisdiction.
Easterling v. Easterling, 231 Ga. 90 (200 S.E.2d 267) (1973); Smith v.
Smith, 223 Ga. 551 (156 S.E.2d 916) (1967).”
Beasley v. Beasley, 396 S.E.2d 222, 260 Ga. 419 (1990). See also
Booksing v. Holley, 437 S.E.2d 857, 210 Ga. App. 869 (1993).
If the defendant has made the motion solely based on written submissions
(in this case, generally the written submissions would be affidavits from
people who know about the issues related to jurisdiction), then “disputes
of fact found in the affidavits are resolved in favor of plaintiff. See,
generally, C. Wright and A. Miller, 5 Federal Practice and Procedure §
1351 (West 1969, 1989 Supp.).” Beasley v. Beasley, 396 S.E.2d 222,
260 Ga. 419 (1990).
As a DeKalb County lawyer handling a case in Decatur, I wrote a good deal
of material about a jurisdictional issues. I will be sharing some of the
Georgia law research in my next blog posts.