Where do I file suit? State or Federal Court?

Both the federal government and each state government have their own distinct court systems. While both include judges, attorneys, and witnesses alike, they are very different. The main difference involves the type of case that each court is allowed to hear and decide. This is called jurisdiction, which refers to a particular’s court authority to make legal decisions and judgments. Generally, state courts have broad jurisdiction and can hear many types of cases, including traffic, criminal, domestic, civil and more. On the other hand, federal courts are directed to hear cases only if they meet certain conditions. The two most common conditions are federal question cases and diversity cases.

Federal question, or subject-matter, cases involve an alleged violation of the United States Constitution or, more commonly, a federal law. For example, a dispute between a landlord and tenant over rent would not fall under federal question. However, a dispute over denial of leasing property due to race would be a federal question because it violates the Fair Housing Act, a federal piece of legislation.

Diversity cases deal with the parties to a case rather than what the case is about. To illustrate, state courts can hear cases dealing with two parties from the same state. On the other hand, if the parties are from different states, they may move their case up to a federal court if the amount in question is more than $75,000. For example, you have a contract with an out-of-state contractor to renovate your home and unfortunately the contractor does a shoddy job and leaves your home in worse condition. You can sue the contractor for damages.  If the damages are more than $75,000.00, you can sue them in federal court.  If you file in state court, the out of state defendant could remove the case (i.e. request that the case be moved to federal court) to federal court.

The differences between federal and state court are complex and where you should file your case can have real consequences on the timeline and cost of your litigation. If you have a question about where your case could potentially be filed, please do not hesitate to contact us at 804-423-1382 or info@wmmlegal.com to schedule a one-on-one consultation with one of our experienced Virginia civil Federal and State law attorneys.