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Can I really be sued there?

‘Can I really be sued there?’ If you have ever asked that question, you’re not alone—many defendants sued outside of their home state wonder the same thing. For example, if a small family-owned Wisconsin business is sued in a Nevada court, its owners may rightly question whether that is proper.

The answer likely depends on the jurisdiction of the court in question. Personal jurisdiction—that is, a court’s authority over parties to a lawsuit—can be broad, but it is not unlimited. Without jurisdiction over a party, the court does not have authority to decide the dispute. However, if a defendant does not challenge personal jurisdiction at the beginning of a case, that party may forfeit its right to do so, and the case may proceed anyway.

Whether a court has personal jurisdiction depends on an analysis of the United States Constitution, applicable statutes, and the many cases interpreting those sources. As a result, there is not always an easy answer to whether a given court has personal jurisdiction over a party.

In general, a court will typically have personal jurisdiction over an individual whose permanent residence is in the state where the court is located or a corporation incorporated in that state. Beyond those relatively straightforward situations, a court may still have jurisdiction over a party who has sufficient contacts with that state, which depends on many factors.

Because courts can dismiss lawsuits if they do not have personal jurisdiction over a party, this is an important consideration in the early stages of a dispute. Whether you’re contemplating bringing a lawsuit, defending a claim, or negotiating a contract and considering including a clause addressing where parties must resolve any disputes, it is important to keep the principles of personal jurisdiction in mind.

If you are faced with a lawsuit, or need an analysis of jurisdictional issues before a dispute arises, contact Christa Wittenberg at 414-276-5000 or christa.wittenberg@wilaw.com.