Exclusive jurisdiction exists when there is only one court that has the right to hear and decide a given issue. It is distinct from concurrent jurisdiction, which occurs when multiple courts have a vested interest and a legal right to decide a dispute. Exclusive jurisdiction exists in limited courts, such as bankruptcy court and tax court.
Many courts are courts of general jurisdiction. This means the court can hear a variety of different cases. For example, a state court may be able to hear issues of real estate, personal injury, breach of contract, or employment law violations.
Certain issues are also issues over which there is concurrent jurisdiction. For example, if someone has been the victim of a violation of federal employment laws, that individual could bring the case in federal court because the case arises out of federal law. If the victim so choose, he could also bring the case in state court — although if he did so, the defendant would also have the choice to either keep the case in state court or to request that the case be removed to federal court so he could have his rights under the federal law interpreted by a court at the federal level. When concurrent jurisdiction exists, this choice of forum is often referred to as "forum shopping" because either party can opt to choose the court he believes will treat his situation most favorably.
To avoid forum shopping and in recognition of the fact that certain issues should be decided only by one court system to avoid inconclusive interpretation of certain laws that could arise if multiple courts hear the case, certain cases can be heard only in one court. For example, only federal courts can hear cases arising out of the United States Constitution, as it would be problematic if two different states came to different conclusions about the meaning of constitutional rights. In these situations, the court with the authority to hear the case is said to have exclusive jurisdiction.
Likewise, when the federal tax system was created and when federal bankruptcy law was created, the statutes created exclusive jurisdiction in the federal tax court and the federal bankruptcy court respectively. Bankruptcy law and tax law can be complex and are very specialized areas of law, so they should be handled by a judge that has extensive experience within that field. With exclusive jurisdiction, a plaintiff must file the case in the appropriate bankruptcy or tax court in his state if he wishes to file a case on taxes or bankruptcy.