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When are Civil Claims Resolved in Federal vs. State Court?

If you have a dispute which needs to be resolved using the legal system, you will need to speak with a civil litigation attorney to provide you with guidance and advice.  Private disputes are resolved through the civil court system, as opposed to the criminal court system.  The wronged party files a lawsuit and becomes the plaintiff, and the person against whom accusations are made becomes the defendant. The defendant can make counter claims against the plaintiff.  When are Civil Claims Resolved in Federal vs. State Court?

The civil court system can be complex to navigate, which makes having a knowledgeable lawyer on your side essential. One of the biggest issues involves making a determination on which court has jurisdiction over your case. In some situations, only one court will have the authority to hear a claim. In other situations, there may be multiple courts that have jurisdiction and could preside over the disagreement.  When there are multiple courts with jurisdiction, forum shopping is possible so you can choose the court most likely to be favorable to your case.

Because the rules of civil procedure are complicated in many ways, it can be difficult to even decide where to file a case, much less to proceed with presenting the strongest claim possible. Fortunately, you do not have to manage the system on your own. An Irvine civil litigation attorney at Brown & Charbonneau, LLP can provide you with guidance at every step, including helping you to determine whether your civil claim should be resolved in federal or state court.

Federal Versus State Court

The California State Court System and the U.S. federal court system are entirely separate court systems with different judges who preside over different issues. The only time there is crossover and a case moves from one to another is when a  defendant petitions to move the case from state to federal court or vice versa and there are grounds for doing so OR when a case from California state court is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and it makes final decisions which apply nationwide on cases it hears. The Supreme Court doesn’t take every case, and it usually only takes cases where there is an important question of law that needs to be resolved and/or where courts in different states have disagreed on an issue (which is called a circuit split). 

Since most cases don’t end up before the Supreme Court, your case will likely either stay within the state court system or stay within the federal court system once it’s been started. You will need to make an informed choice about whether to file in state or federal court. Sometimes, you have to choose one or the other because only one court has jurisdiction, while other times both the state and the federal court have authority and that’s where forum shopping comes in.

Will Your Civil Claim Be Heard in Federal Court or State Court?

State courts are courts of general jurisdiction and most people who become involved in a civil case will have their dispute heard in state court. State courts can preside over cases arising out of state laws, including contract laws and tort laws.  This means if you have a real estate dispute; breach of contract dispute; shareholder dispute; or a personal injury claim, the case is probably going to be heard in state court.

Federal courts, on the other hand, are courts of limited jurisdiction. They can hear cases only under certain circumstances.  A federal court, for example, can hear a case when it implicates a federal question or when it arises out of federal law.  A federal court presides over cases where there are questions about constitutional rights, or when a plaintiff asserts that the grounds for his case arise under federal legislation.

Since states have broad power to regulate conduct within their borders, there aren’t as many federal laws affecting your day-to-day life, so there aren’t as many civil cases arising out of federal laws. The federal government does, however, have authority to pass laws regulating interstate commerce, among other things. As a result, there are some federal regulations which could give rise to civil court claims. One example is an employment law case where you sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Finally, the federal courts can preside over cases where there is diversity jurisdiction, which occurs when defendants are from different states or different places (like one defendant from outside the country).There must be at least $75,000 at stake for diversity jurisdiction to exist.

How an Irvine Civil Litigation Attorney Can Help You

An Irvine civil litigation attorney at  Brown & Charbonneau, LLP can help you to determine whether your case will be decided in federal or state court. Give us a call at 866-237-8129 or contact us online to learn more.