general jurisdiction

Primary tabs

(1) General jurisdiction is a court’s authority to hear any type of case which is not vested in another court. Often, states will vest their trial courts with general jurisdiction. For example, Article VI, Section 14 of the Arizona Constitution grants superior courts, the state’s trial courts, general jurisdiction by granting them jurisdiction over, among others, the following: equity cases, criminal cases amounting to a felony or misdemeanor, civil cases where the value of property in dispute exceeds $1,000, matters of probate, and any case or proceeding in which exclusive jurisdiction is not vested by law in another court. 

(2) General jurisdiction is a form of minimum contacts that may enable a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a corporate defendant in that state without violating due process, irrespective of the nature of the claim. Compare: specific jurisdiction

The U.S. Supreme Court pronounced the standard for whether a state may exercise personal jurisdiction on an out-of-state corporate defendant in International Shoe v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945). International Shoe requires that, in order for a state to exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state corporate defendant, that defendant must have minimum contacts within the state and jurisdiction would not offend traditional notions of fair justice. It defines minimum contacts as “continuous and systematic” operations. While International Shoe requires that a state have general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction over a personal defendant to satisfy personal jurisdiction, it does not stand for the proposition that general jurisdiction alone can satisfy personal jurisdiction. 

The first major Supreme Court to find general jurisdiction alone was sufficient to satisfy personal jurisdiction was Perkins v. Benguet, 342 U.S. 437 (1951). There, a non-Ohio citizen sued Benguet Consolidated Mining Company, which was incorporated in the Philippines, in Ohio, where Benguet maintained business operations in response to the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Specifically, Benguet kept office files in their Ohio office, carried on official correspondence there, held director meetings there, supervised policies dealing with rehabilitation of the mines from there, and paid salary from that office. The Supreme Court found that these activities were continuous and systematic, so Ohio could subject Benguet to its jurisdiction without violating due process even though the plaintiff’s claim was not related to Benguet’s Ohio activities.

Subsequent Supreme Court cases, however, have significantly limited the extent to which states may subject corporations to personal jurisdiction based on their operations there alone. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court in BNSF v. Tyrrell held that “[a] state court may exercise general jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations when their affiliations with the State are so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” The Court described the paradigm forums in which a defendant corporation is at home as its place of incorporation and its principal place of business. While strongly limiting the holding in Perkins, it did not overrule it. It instead viewed Perkins as an “exceptional case” because the corporate defendant’s activities in Ohio were so substantial that it rendered it at home in Ohio, even though Benguet was incorporated elsewhere. 

[Last updated in December of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]