Federal vs. State Court: How Do You Determine Where to File a Lawsuit?
Lawsuits can be filed in either state court or federal court, depending on where the litigants live or do business, the type of case, the amount in controversy, and the legal issues in dispute.
While federal courts have limited jurisdiction, there are some disputes for which both federal and state courts may have jurisdiction. This is known as concurrent jurisdiction.
When concurrent jurisdiction exists, you and your attorney should discuss your options:
- If you are filing the lawsuit (the plaintiff), you and your attorney can choose in which court to file based on strategic advantage.
- If you are sued in state court or federal court (the defendant), you may be able to “remand” your case from federal court to state court or “remove” your case from state court to federal court if certain prerequisites are met.
Factors to consider include the court's caseload, the pace at which you wish to manage the litigation, whether you want an elected or an appointed judge, and potential procedural advantages.
What Are the Advantages of State Court?
State courts have broad jurisdiction and can hear most claims under state or federal law, even if the litigants are from different states.
When selecting state court over federal court, consider these factors:
- State courts tend to move at a slower pace compared to federal courts due to heavier caseloads. It can take longer to get a hearing and set a trial date. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your budget and the opposing party’s interests.
- The rules of procedure at state court can be more relaxed than federal court. This allows you to change deadlines and manage your case with more flexibility.
- Because you often have a slower docket (i.e., timetable of deadlines) in state court, you can spread your legal costs out over a longer period of time.
- State courts can also be less intimidating – an advantage for businesses and individuals who don’t have experience with litigation.
What Are the Advantages of Federal Court?
In contrast with state courts, federal courts have a much narrower jurisdiction. They only have jurisdiction when the opposing parties are citizens of different states (and the amount in controversy is greater than $75,000) or when a federal question is presented, meaning the issue is based on a federal law or the U.S. Constitution, such as U.S.-registered patents, copyrights, or trademarks, or antitrust statutes.
Is federal court a more favorable venue for your dispute? Consider these factors:
- One of the biggest advantages of a federal court is that federal judges are appointed, whereas state judges are elected. This can eliminate the potential for a “home-field” advantage in state court cases.
- Federal court can be a better option when you have multiple plaintiffs or defendants, or third-party litigation.
- Federal court may be a better option when you have a complex subject matter.
- Federal court judges manage their dockets closely – deadlines are strictly enforced – so your litigation pace will be quicker than in state court. This is often an advantage when you want to be aggressive in your litigation to seek an early resolution or put pressure on the opposing party.
Which Court Is More Powerful?
Federal court is not necessarily more powerful than state courts, and vice versa. They simply have different jurisdictions and processes. State courts typically decide issues that impact local and statewide issues, while federal courts often hear cases with national impact. As such, federal cases may be more newsworthy and impact more people. But neither court holds more inherent power than the other.
Can All Attorneys Try Cases in Federal Court?
No, not all attorneys are admitted to practice in federal court. Admission to federal court is usually an additional privilege granted to attorneys who are in good standing with their state bar.
It is important to choose an attorney with experience in both state and federal court so that your attorney can advise you on the pros and cons of each and help you choose the most advantageous forum for your case.
Our Houston-Based Law Firm Is Standing By
At Hendershot Cowart P.C., we know that facing litigation as a business owner or executive is stressful, and you have much at stake. It is vital that you seek legal counsel that is responsive to your needs and who has the experience and resources to handle even the most complex of cases.
Our business litigation attorneys have over three decades of experience managing cases at both the state and federal levels, and we are prepared to consult on your matter today.Contact us online to schedule a consultation, or call our firm at (713) 909-7323. When you need a strong advocate ready to fight for the best interests of you and your company, turn to us.