A court of limited jurisdiction has authority to hear and decide cases only of a particular subject matter. All federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Federal district courts only have the power to hear cases that arise under federal law, or cases that meet the requirements for diversity jurisdiction. Further, there are also special courts that only hear certain types of cases, such as the U.S. Tax Court or the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Federal circuit courts can only hear cases on appeal from a federal district or special court. The U.S. Supreme Court can hear cases on appeal from a circuit court, or on appeal from state courts if the case involves a federal question.
Most state courts are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning a court that can hear almost any state or federal claim, with some exceptions. However, there are also state courts of limited jurisdiction. The names of state courts of limited jurisdiction vary from state to state, such as municipal, county, and justice of the peace. Such courts handle a variety of subject matter, such as family, probate, traffic, juvenile, and small claims courts. For a more in depth look at limited jurisdiction state courts, see this resource guide from the National Center for State Courts.
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]