Territorial jurisdiction tells us which courts have power over the parties in a case. Venue tells us with specificity the location of the court that hears the case.
In the federal court system, venue is governed generally by 28 USC 1391. States have their own venue rules.
Assume a state has 30 state courts and two federal courts within its borders. Venue would tell us which of the 30 state courts will hear the case or which of the two federal courts will hear a case.
It’s easiest to understand this by taking an example. Let’s say David, a resident of Massachusetts collides his car into Patty’s car. Patty is a resident of Manhattan in New York City and the accident takes place in Manhattan.
1. Power over the parties:
Let’s assume Patty wants to sue David in New York. A New York court will need to have personal jurisdiction over David – – power over David. If David drove his car into New York and collided with Patty, New York courts should have power over David.
2. But New York has more than one court:
- There are four federal courts in New York, one for each federal district: the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, and the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.
- If the case is in federal court, we need to look at the venue statute for federal courts to decide which of the four federal courts is appropriate.
- There are also more than 60 state courts in New York. New York is divided into counties and each county has its own court.
- If the case is in New York state court, we need to look at New York’s venue rules to decide which of the more than 60 state courts is appropriate.
Assume Patty’s case goes to federal court. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, located in Manhattan, would probably be an appropriate venue for Patty’s case.
Venue and convenience
Sometimes a case will be brought in one court but the judge agrees that another court, even a court in a different state or country would be a better court to hear the case.
Let’s say instead of a car crash this case is about a plane crash in another country. Patty wants to sue the airline in a New York court and New York courts have power over the airline. However, all the relevant evidence and witnesses are located in another country. Or let’s say the accident took place in another state and all the relevant evidence and witnesses are in that state.
Under these circumstances the judge might agree that New York is an inconvenient forum (forum non conveniens) and the case will have to proceed in another court.
Venue and Motion Practice
In the federal courts, a party can ask a judge to dismiss a case because venue is improper pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). The party can also move to transfer the case pursuant to 28 USC 1404.