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Chapter 3 Courts and the Legal Process

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Describe the two different court systems in the United States, and explain why some cases can be filed in either court system.
  2. Explain the importance of subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction and know the difference between the two.
  3. Describe the various stages of a civil action: from pleadings, to discovery, to trial, and to appeals.
  4. Describe two alternatives to litigation: mediation and arbitration.

In the United States, law and government are interdependent. The Constitution establishes the basic framework of government and imposes certain limitations on the powers of government. In turn, the various branches of government are intimately involved in making, enforcing, and interpreting the law. Today, much of the law comes from Congress and the state legislatures. But it is in the courts that legislation is interpreted and prior case law is interpreted and applied.

As we go through this chapter, consider the case of Harry and Kay Robinson. In which court should the Robinsons file their action? Can the Oklahoma court hear the case and make a judgment that will be enforceable against all of the defendants? Which law will the court use to come to a decision? Will it use New York law, Oklahoma law, federal law, or German law?

Robinson v. Audi

Harry and Kay Robinson purchased a new Audi automobile from Seaway Volkswagen, Inc. (Seaway), in Massena, New York, in 1976. The following year the Robinson family, who resided in New York, left that state for a new home in Arizona. As they passed through Oklahoma, another car struck their Audi in the rear, causing a fire that severely burned Kay Robinson and her two children. Later on, the Robinsons brought a products-liability action in the District Court for Creek County, Oklahoma, claiming that their injuries resulted from the defective design and placement of the Audi’s gas tank and fuel system. They sued numerous defendants, including the automobile’s manufacturer, Audi NSU Auto Union Aktiengesellschaft (Audi); its importer, Volkswagen of America, Inc. (Volkswagen); its regional distributor, World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. (World-Wide); and its retail dealer, Seaway.

Should the Robinsons bring their action in state court or in federal court? Over which of the defendants will the court have personal jurisdiction?