Document Type



Published in vol. 91 of the Cornell Law Review. This version supersedes earlier versions.


What kind of factual showing must the plaintiff make in order to establish, say, personal jurisdiction? While that question may seem simple enough, real difficulties in regard to the standard of proof arise when there is a similarity of the facts entailed in the jurisdictional determination and those on the merits. Surely, the plaintiff has to do more than allege that the defendant is the author of state-directed acts or omissions. Yet, almost as surely, the plaintiff should not have to prove the cause of action in order to establish jurisdiction. The plaintiff thus must have to show something between allegation and proof.

From a morass of confused cases on this procedural point of significance, this Article draws a startlingly clear rule that covers jurisdictional fact, and much more. On any factual element or legal question of forum authority, from subject-matter jurisdiction to venue whenever properly challenged, the proponent of forum authority must make the usual showing of “more likely than not,” subject to this exception: if that element or question overlaps the merits of the claim, the proponent need provide only prima facie proof to establish the forum’s authority. Depending on the particular threshold issue’s importance, “prima facie” might mean any of the standards below the more-likely-than-not standard, namely, slightest possibility, reasonable possibility, substantial possibility, or equipoise. That lower standard will allow the judge to decide efficiently but definitively whether the forum has authority to decide the merits—doing so without entailing or foreclosing any decision on the merits, a decision to which a higher standard would apply.

Date of Authorship for this Version

July 2006

Included in

Jurisdiction Commons