In the legal system of the United States, a long arm statute is a law which allows a court to exercise jurisdiction over people and companies in other states. Normally jurisdiction is limited, for a number of reasons, but when connections with another state are sufficiently notable, courts in that state can use a long arm statute to justify hearing a case in their jurisdiction. Many states have reciprocal laws of this nature which extend long arm statutes by courtesy to other states.
There are a number of ways in which jurisdiction is limited. In the case of a long arm statute, the law involved is the law limiting personal jurisdiction, determining where people can be tried on the basis of their residence and connections. Normally, a court in, for example, Illinois, cannot hear a suit regarding someone who is a resident of Texas. This would be considered a “hostile” suit, as the respondent would be forced to travel to Illinois in order to appear in court.
However, if the Texas resident has sufficient connections with Illinois, an Illinois court could use a long arm statute to argue that it can hear the case and that it is no longer hostile by consequence of the respondent's connections. For example, if the Texas resident was involved in an accident or another incident in Illinois, spends part of the time in that state, or does business in Illinois on a regular basis, these would be deemed sufficient connections to justify being brought before an Illinois court. Likewise, if a business in Arkansas had a branch in Georgia, or shipped products to Georgia, it could be brought to court in Georgia.
If a case is subject to a long arm jurisdiction, the court is required to serve adequate notice so that the subject of a suit has time to prepare. It is also recognized that traveling for a trial can pose a hardship, and people may be able to argue for postponements and other measures while they make arrangements to attend court.
When people and businesses receive summonses from courts which they believe should not have jurisdiction over them, a lawyer should be consulted. The lawyer can review the facts of the matter to determine whether or not a long arm statute is involved and can provide assistance with responding to the suit, including finding a lawyer who is admitted to practice before the bar in the state where the suit is based.