Rule 8 of the Federal Rules Requires a Short and Plain Statement of the Court’s Jurisdiction

F.R.Civ. P. 8 requires a pleading in a civil action in federal court  – – a Complaint or  counterclaim – –  to include a ‘short and plain’ statement of the basis for the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction.  The Complaint must allege why the case belongs in federal court.  Without this allegation, a federal court may dismiss the Complaint for failing to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Many complaints accomplish this with a single allegation in a single sentence.  The complaint will typically assert that the federal court has either diversity or federal question jurisdiction.  In appropriate cases a complaint might allege that the court has both diversity and federal question jurisdiction.

Remember, federal question jurisdiction means that federal law or the Constitution created the claim (28 USC §1331) and diversity jurisdiction means the plaintiff is not a citizen of the same state as the defendants and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 (28 USC §1332).  If the basis for subject matter jurisdiction is a federal question, then the complaint might also allege that the court has supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims that are included in the complaint.

Litigants Rarely Include Great Detail Regarding Jurisdictional Grounds

Because Rule 8 only requires a ‘short and plain statement’, litigants typically will not include in their initial pleading excessive detail regarding the grounds for subject matter jurisdiction.  A plaintiff will often just track the language of 28 USC § 1331 or 1332.  For example, a complaint might allege in simple terms that the court has jurisdiction under 28 USC § 1332 based on diversity because the plaintiff and defendant are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000.  

Of course, if another party or the court challenges jurisdiction, the party asserting that the court has jurisdiction will need to prove that there is a basis for the federal court to hear the case. 

Examples of Short and Plain Statements of Jurisdiction

To the right is an example of an allegation that the Court has federal question jurisdiction.  The Complaint refers to 28 USC § 1332 and also to 28 USC § 1343.  28 USC §1343 provides federal courts with original jurisdiction over certain types of claims based on civil rights violations.  The plaintiffs in this case allege that the court has jurisdiction because a University discriminated against them in violation of federal law.

The Complaint to the right alleges multiple grounds for jurisdiction.  In addition to diversity jurisdiction, the Complaint alleges that the court has federal question jurisdiction and also jurisdiction over state law claims that are related to the federal question (28 USC § 1367).

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