How to Handle Civ Pro on the Bar Exam: Your Three-Step Approach to Civ Pro MBEs

The primary issue in most civ pro questions is: Can this dispute be heard in this court? Here are a few helpful tips to help you answer that question.

1. Personal Jurisdiction (Who)

Personal jurisdiction is all about whether there is a sufficient relationship between the location of the court and the parties or property in dispute. In other words: personal jurisdiction is the ability of a court in a specific place to exercise power over persons or property.

The majority of MBE questions will focus on the ability of the court to exercise jurisdiction over persons, know as in personam jurisdiction. Such jurisdiction must be both statutorily authorized and constitutional.

Questions regarding whether a court has the statutory authority most frequently arise in the context of a state’s long arm statute, while questions of constitutional authority generally arise in the context of testing whether a party has sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state and adequate notice.

Note: The minimum contacts analysis is what most personal jurisdiction questions target, so we recommend you have that analysis down cold.

2. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction (What)

Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear particular types of cases. In other words: does the court have authority over the subject in dispute? 

A few key things to remember about subject matter jurisdiction:

  • The constitution allows federal courts to hear cases only where there’s a federal question involved (known as federal question jurisdiction) or where there are parties from different states involved in an amount in controversy that exceeds $75,000 (know as diversity jurisdiction).
  • BUT: claims that lack federal question or diversity jurisdiction can still be tried in federal court, if they are tied to a claim that does satisfy one of the two through supplemental jurisdiction.
  • A claim started in state court that could have been tried in federal can be moved there through removal jurisdiction.
3. Venue (Where)

Venue involves the determination of the judicial district(s) in which a plaintiff may bring suit.

For federal venue, remember that civil actions are proper in any district: (1) where all the defendants live, or (2) where a substantial part of the claim arose or in which a substantial part of the property at issue is situated.

If neither of those can be satisfied, in diversity actions, venue is proper in any district where a defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction. In non-diversity cases, venue is proper in any district where a defendant may be found. 


MBE and MEE Essay Flashcards that help you learn and memorize key bar exam concepts, effectively and affordably.

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