SMJ, PJ, and venue compared

The differences between SMJ, PJ, and venue

Recall the differences between subject-matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and venue.

SMJ (subject-matter jurisdiction) exists when a court system has the power to hear a certain type of case, as measured by the nature of parties (diversity) or the nature of the controversy (e.g., federal question, patent, etc.). SMJ cannot be consented to or waived, and a court must raise the issue of SMJ sua sponte if SMJ appears to be lacking. If diversity or federal question (or some other flavor of original) SMJ exist, then any federal district court would have SMJ. This is because SMJ is measured for the court system, and not for an individual court within that system.

PJ (personal jurisdiction) gives a court power to enter a valid and enforceable judgment over a person or property. It is measured geographically, typically by state borders. Unlike SMJ, an objection to PJ can be waived and PJ can be consented to.

Venue is the determination of where within a court system a trial can take place. So the question of proper venue in Florida state courts would ask which of Florida’s trial court or courts could hear a case, and in federal court would be the question of which of the 94 federal district courts would be a proper place or places for trial.

To know which forum or fora may be proper you must consider all three: SMJ, PJ, and venue. Note that oftentimes a lawsuit can plausibly be filed in more than one court system, and in more than one place.

Subject-matter jurisdiction Personal jurisdiction Venue
Basic idea Whether the court system has constitutional and statutory power to hear the civil action, as measured either by the nature of the parties (diversity) or the nature of the suit (federal question). Whether the court (whether state or federal) has power to enter a valid and enforcement judgment against a particular D or particular property. Where within a court system should trial take place?
Can a defect be waived No. SMJ cannot be consented to or waived. The court has the obligation to examine its own SMJ sua sponte. Yes. Failure to properly and timely object to a defect in PJ waives any such objection.


Yes. Failure to properly and timely object to a defect in venue waives any such objection.


Basis for requirement Constitution: Article III

Statutes: original jurisdiction statutes such as 1331, 1332, 1338, etc.


  • Fifth Amendment (federal court)
  • Fourteenth Amendment (state court)

Statutes or rules:

  • FRCP 4(k) (federal court)
  • State long-arm statutes


Constitution: none

Venue statutes such as 1390, 1391, others

State court systems have their own venue laws.

Examples Original jurisdiction examples:

  • Federal question jurisdiction: 28 U.S.C. § 1331
  • Diversity jurisdiction: 28 U.S.C. § 1332
  • Patent, copyright, trademark, plant variety: 28 U.S.C. § 1338

Removal jurisdiction:

  • Requires original jurisdiction
  • 28 U.S.C. § 1441

Supplemental jurisdiction:

  • Requires original jurisdiction
  • Requires sufficient relationship between original and supplemental claims
  • 28 U.S.C. § 1367
There will be PJ so long as: 1) an authorizing law grants PJ such as FRCP 4(k) or a state long-arm; and 2) the Constitution does not bar PJ.

Examples of laws authorizing PJ:

  • State long-arms (whether enumerated or unenumerated);
  • Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k) (including 4(k)(1)(A), which looks to state long-arms)

Examples of Constitutional tests. Only one basis needs to be satisfied:

  • Minimum contacts
  • Waiver/consent
  • Domicile
  • Tag
  • Property (see Shaffer)


1391(b)(1): where all Ds reside in same state, venue ok in any district where at least one D resides. Note that “residence” is defined in 1391(c) and (d).

1391(b)(2): look to where substantial events, omissions, or property gave rise to the claim

1391(b)(3): fallback venue

Posted Sept. 16, 2016