Understanding Jurisdiction

The authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases is called JURISDICTION.

Jurisdiction determines the types of cases accepted by the Florida Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Florida is the ultimate appellate court in Florida, but most appeals do not reach this Court. Appeals from the trial courts go to the District Courts of Appeal, which usually issue the final decision in a case.

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is set out in the Constitution with some degree of flexibility by which the Legislature may add or remove certain categories of cases. The Supreme Court has the authority to hear or not hear most of the cases it considers. This is called discretionary jurisdiction. 

But some cases are mandatory. According to the Florida Constitution, the Supreme Court must review all death sentences imposed by trial judges and all decisions by District Courts of Appeal declaring a state statute or provision of the state constitution invalid. Also, the Court, by direction of the Florida Constitution and state law, must review trial court rulings upholding local government bonds and decisions by state utility regulators concerning rates or service.

The most common example of discretionary jurisdiction is seen when the Supreme Court resolves conflicts in rulings by any of the five District Courts of Appeal. Other examples of discretionary jurisdiction include review of DCA decisions that uphold a state law, interpret a provision of the state or federal constitution or certify an issue one of “great public importance.”

And, according to the Florida Constitution, the Supreme Court can issue “all writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction.”

MANDATORY or DISCRETIONARY JURISDICTION

The Supreme Court must review (MANDATORY)

  1. all final orders imposing death sentences and
  2. all district court decisions declaring a Florida statute or part of the Florida Constitution invalid.
  3. Where provided by general law, the court must also review bond validations and actions of statewide agencies relating to public utilities.

If it chooses to accept jurisdiction, the Court may review (DISCRETIONARY) a district court decision that does one or more of the following:

  1. conflicts with another district court or Supreme Court of Florida decision
  2. declares a Florida statute or provision of Florida’s Constitution valid
  3. interprets a part(s) of Florida’s Constitution or the United States Constitution
  4. or affects a class of constitutional or state officers.

The Court may also review a case where a district or federal appellate court has certified an issue(s) for resolution.