Jurisdiction and venue: a strategic race to the courthouse. But which one?

Students sometimes struggle to distinguish the legal concepts of jurisdiction and venue. They are related, but different.

Jurisdiction is the threshold legal authority of a court to adjudicate a dispute, or decide the case at hand. It is based on things like type of law (federal vs. state), due process notice requirements, and statutes that might narrow the general jurisdiction of a court to a more limited area, such a family law, small claims, or corporate matters such as the Delaware Chancery court.

Venue is simply the physical location of the court that has jurisdiction over the matter.

What makes things interesting and a strategic factor is that several courts may have jurisdiction and multiple venues may be suitable to decide a case. Often, this leads to a race to the courthouse and the strategic game of forum shopping, or trying to select the best court for a particular legal outcome

Sometimes, the race leads to a filing in a venue in one’s home turf to establish a “home court advantage.” In a contract, this is often negotiated as a choice of forum or venue clause.

I recently engaged in a role-playing exercise with my evening MBA students. They were in the position of an artificial intelligence patent owner strategically deciding which forum would be best to bring suit. We looked at patent jury statistics to see the differences in win rates across federal district courts. We also examined 28 U.S.C 1400 and the U.S. Supreme Court decision TC Heartland. Finally, we read this great article discussing the Western District of Texas as a new hotbed of patent litigation (a rocket docket):

Q1 2020 Patent Litigation Filings Show Western District of Texas is the New Venue of Choice

In the end, I think the students came away with a much better understanding of jurisdiction and the important and strategic role of choosing a venue to resolve legal disputes.

Which brings me to the last item we discussed in class. In an ideal world, Justice would negate any of the needs or desires to engage in legal strategy of this nature. In a perfect world, Justice would apply equally to everyone at all times. Alas though, we live in a far-from-perfect world so the need to behave strategically becomes a necessary evil, that in some cases, furthers the goals of Justice.