Features – What’s the Jurisdiction on that One? A quick tour of Internet and print resources for determining federal jurisdictional questions in the United States.

Roger Vicarius Skalbeck is currently the Library Systems Specialist at the Washington, DC firm of Williams and Connolly, and is the Assistant Chair for the Web Committee of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. Current work activities include efforts to develop creative solutions to technology-based legal research problems, from a librarian’s point of view.


If you are involved at all in federal litigation, you are likely to come across some questions (as librarian, litigator, practitioner or paralegal) that deal with determining issues of location in courtroom proceedings, depositions, and any number of discovery matters that are governed by the United States Code as well as national and local court rules.

Some typical questions may be:

In what federal district is Little Rock, Arkansas?

Is there more than one federal district in Kentucky?

– A witness in a trial lives in Tucson, and there is a trial going on in Phoenix. The court rules seem to say that if she lives more than 100 miles from the courthouse, a deposition can be used in lieu of having her appear. Is Tucson more than 100 miles from Phoenix?

In the following article, you will find Internet and print resources that you may use to quickly answer these and many more questions relating to court jurisdictional issues.

There are several similar situations that you can imagine along these lines, and if you work in litigation (directly or indirectly), you probably have come across these kinds of queries. I am not a lawyer, so I will not deal at all with the interpretation or the presentation of specific factual situations. For a glimpse of a vast number of the court rules which govern federal (and state) actions, refer to Genie Tyburski’s Litigator’s Internet Resource Guide: Rules of Court, here at LLRX. For any kind of legal advice or legal interpretation of these rules, consult a lawyer.

Determining the right federal district

In order to determine the appropriate federal location for a given action, you need to know the relevant place of action, including the named county in which a given city resides. From there, you need to know the federal district to which that county belongs. This is because the United States Code lays out the organization of federal districts based on the named counties in a given state (or territory).

On the Internet, a good source for determining county affiliation can be found through the Geographic Nameserver, hosted on a server at MIT. This is a no-frills site that gives basic vital statistics about a given city. Searching is simple and appears to be fairly comprehensive. In addition to county name, you also get latitude and longitude coordinates, population, postal codes, and certain other information. For the most part, this site is limited to places in the U.S.

Naturally, you don’t always have to utilize the Internet for obtaining information, so for a variety of reasons, you might also want to check out a good print directory for finding out county affiliations. One of the best ones is the United States Directory of Cities & Counties, published in McPherson, Kansas by A M Publications. It costs $31 with postage, and A M Publications can be reached at: 316-585-6721. If your computer is often tied up with other processes, if you have a slow or inconsistent Internet connection, or if you prefer to use print directories to look up simple facts, this directory works great.

Once you have the associated county name, proceed to Title 28 of the United States Code. Part I, Chapter 5 lists all of the federal district courts. A great source for this can be found at the Cornell University site. Including the heading in the title, this can be found at:

TITLE 28 – Judiciary and Judicial Procedure Part I – Organization of Courts – Chapter 5 – District Courts (see http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/28/ch5.html).

Keep in mind that this is not the most up to date version of the U.S. Code, so you might also want to check out a second source to see if anything has changed recently. In addition to listing the counties that are associated with each federal district, the names of the cities where court can be held are also included, although no addresses are listed.

Court rule distance requirements

Once a venue has been located, you will need to determine the requirements of the parties involved in a given case as they are impacted by the rules of that jurisdiction. One issue that could come up relates to the question of when and where witnesses can be called to testify in a given trial, which can be affected by the distance between the witness (or cause of action) and the court house or hearing location. In general, many of the distance requirements (100 miles from the courthouse or hearing location is a common stipulation) are prescribed in federal court rules, which can be further specified by federal local court rules. Maps, printed atlases, and gazetteers can be useful in determining these kinds of issues, but often they do not provide exactly what you want. Also, it can be time consuming, and will tend to be imprecise for maps of a greater scale. Here is where a simple Internet source can be extremely useful. One of the best in performing this is found in: How Far is it?, a site sponsored by a Bali tourism company, utilizing United States Census data in conjunction with utilities available through the U.S. Geological Survey to correlate distances. The interface is simple, the response time is quick, and most importantly, the distance is measured “as the crow flies”, which is what matters in the eyes of the court. The distances measured by this site are normalized to a given “city center” location, so it might not be as useful for places like New York City. However, if you know the longitude and latitude of the places in question (down to the minutes and sections if you have them), you can get some pretty precise information. Maybe this is the perfect time to get that GPS system installed in your laptop.

Finding the court house

Though not directly associated with determining jurisdictional issues, the question of how you can find the courthouse is bound to come up. As I see it, there are two basic, fundamental questions of:

    • Where is the court?
    • How do I get there?

At the moment, and based on my experiences, the latter question is generally quite easy to answer with Internet-based resources, while the former is seldom easy to do quickly on the Internet.

Where is the court?

In researching this article, I found no current site that collects any kind of comprehensive directory of nationwide federal district courts (and/or state courts). Though there are other sites out there, following are three sites that provide some (but certainly not all) of the federal court location information that you might need:

United States Directory of Courts. Provided directly by the U.S. Courts System, this is a useful & brief listing which enumerates the number, main city location & zip code of all federal district courts, including information on the number of judgeships. They also provide a directory of U.S. Courts of Appeals, though the street addresses are not listed.

Fed-Regional: United States Federal Court, information on FindLaw, as provided by Carroll publishing — addresses and main contact information for appellate-level court personnel (note: the URL is a bit quirky, so go to FindLaw if it fails)

Federal – State Court Directory, 1999 – Published by WANT Publishing Company, this includes a narrative of many of the specialized courts as well as contact information for the clerks & locations of all federal appellate courts.

If you have to deal with more than a handful of states in the country, invest in a good court directory if you haven’t already. To many, this advice might seem obvious, but I add it out of courtesy to those who might not know about these yet. Different people will prefer different resources, but I recommend either of the following directories for federal courts. Both of these publishers also cover state courts similarly well.

Want’s Federal-State Court Directory. Washington, D.C.: WANT Pub. Co.

BNA’s Directory of State & Federal Courts, Judges, and Clerks. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs.

How do I get there?

Now that you have determined the proper courthouse, decided who will actually have to appear at court, and found out where the court is located, how do you get there on a tight schedule? You have a number of options for getting driving directions, and for getting local maps of the area that you will be visiting. Map sites are fairly easy to find, and you might already have your favorite. For “point to point” driving directions, I suggest that you check out the following sites and use the one that works the best for you:

MapQuest (http://www.mapquest.com) – The driving directions portion of this site allows for address-to-address directions with associated maps.

MapsOnUs (http://www.mapsonus.com) – Address-to-address driving directions, including referencing of some local landmarks (courthouses locations are indexed for some cities).

FindLaw: Directories: Maps and Directions (http://www.findlaw.com/directories/map.html) – Address-to-address driving directions as well as local street and city maps.

Delorme: CyberRouter (http://www.delorme.com/CyberMaps/route.asp) – This is more of a generalized driving program which will provide you with city-to-city directions and maps.


Hopefully you will find some of the above resources of interest and of use to you, and I hope that you find the right court and get there on time. Again, please don’t take anything printed here as legal advice, but if you have any suggestions, or if there are other sources that you have found to be useful in determining issues of this nature, please let me know.

Just in case you were interested: Little Rock is in Pulaski county, which is in the Western Division of the Eastern District of Arkansas. There are two federal districts in Kentucky, and Tucson is 115 miles from Phoenix.

Posted in: Features, Legal Research