The Difference Between State and Federal Jurisdiction

One issue that we sometimes encounter, from either the plaintiff or defendant side, is whether we should initiate or defend litigation in state or federal court. On a basic level, jurisdictional questions are somewhat easy. Normally, state law claims are brought in state court and federal claims are brought in federal court. But it is not always that easy because federal claims can be brought in state court and, in some cases, state claims can be brought in federal court. In those cases, a plaintiff or defendant has to make a decision about where they want to bring their claims.

There are two particular situations where a plaintiff is faced with deciding whether to bring claims in state or federal court. The first situation where this is presented is where a plaintiff has federal and state law claims which can be brought in one lawsuit. In this situation, a plaintiff can bring his claims in state or federal court depending on his or her preference. The state court could claim jurisdiction based on the residency of the plaintiff, while federal jurisdiction could be invoked under what is known as federal question jurisdiction. Under federal question jurisdiction, federal courts have jurisdiction over any claim that originates under the laws of the United States. The second situation where a plaintiff can bring his claims in federal or state court is where the plaintiff and defendant are from separate states and the claim brought is for more than $75,000. In this situation, the state court again has jurisdiction due to the residency of the plaintiff, while federal jurisdiction could be invoked under what is called diversity jurisdiction, where federal courts have jurisdiction over claims between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. In either of these situations, a plaintiff can choose to bring his or her claims in state or federal court. Note that whenever lawsuits involve citizens of different states, a defendant has the right to contest the court’s jurisdiction over him or her and the situation where a defendant contests a court’s jurisdiction is not a rarity. For these reasons, it is important for a plaintiff to consult with his or her counsel in deciding where to bring his or her claims.

From the defendant’s side, in situations where federal and state claims are brought in state court, the defendant must decide whether he wants to litigate in state or federal court. Under a concept known as removal, a defendant in a case where federal claims are brought in state court has the right to remove the matter to federal court. When a defendant from a state different from the plaintiff is sued in the plaintiff’s home state, the defendant must make several decisions: first, does he want to try and have the case dismissed or transferred because the state court lacks jurisdiction over him or her; second, if he does not want to do that right away, does he or she want to remove the matter to federal court and invoke the federal court’s diversity jurisdiction if it is available; or, third, does he or she want to remove the matter to federal court and then attempt to have the matter dismissed or transferred for lack of jurisdiction. These decisions should be made between the defendant and his or her counsel.

Cases which involve federal and state law claims or involve citizens of different states present different considerations than a simple dispute between citizens of the same state. In these situations, it is important for a plaintiff or defendant to have counsel to guide them in deciding where to bring his or her claims. The attorneys at Lavelle Law have extensive experience in both state and federal court and can help a litigant make the correct decision on where their matter should be heard.

For more information on this topic or any other litigation topic, please contact the author, attorney Lance C. Ziebell of Lavelle Law, at 847-705-7555 or lziebell@lavellelaw.com.