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Can My Civil Case Be Heard in Federal Court?

In the United States, we operate under a federalist form of government. This means we have a strong central government in the form of our federal government as well as numerous smaller governments in the form of the individual state governments. It also means that we have two judicial systems – the federal court system and the individual state court systems. If you are involved in civil litigation it may be possible for your case to be heard in either state or federal court. You may even have the option to choose your venue. Often, there are advantages to having a case heard in federal court instead of state court, and vice versa. Understandably, your first question may be “Can my case be heard in federal court?”

For your case to be heard in federal court there must be what is known as “federal subject matter jurisdiction.” In essence, this means that the law must allow a federal court to decide the issues involved in your case. Certain types of issues have always been left to the state courts while others are exclusively within the jurisdiction of the federal courts. A divorce or the probating of a Will, for example, are handled by state courts. Copyright cases, admiralty cases, and lawsuits involving the military as well as immigration laws and bankruptcy proceedings, on the other hand, are exclusively handled by the federal court system.

There are three basic types of subject matter jurisdiction that allow the federal court system to hear a civil case:

Federal question jurisdiction – this means that at least one of the issues in the case involves a Constitutional question or touches on some other federal law. A dispute over an employment contract, for example would normally not involve a federal issue unless the employee was claiming that the employer discriminated against him/her in which case Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act would likely be at issue, therefore giving the case federal question jurisdiction.

·Diversity jurisdiction – applies when the parties in the case are citizens of different states. For diversity jurisdiction to be used as a basis to move a case into federal court, however, the “amount in controversy” must also be greater than $75,000. In addition, there are some limits that prevent certain types of cases, such as family law cases, to be heard in federal court even if the parties are from different states.

·Supplemental jurisdiction – allows a federal court to settle issues that would not normally be heard in federal court if they are related to a case already before the court. For instance, if a tenant sued a landlord for discrimination, but also claimed that the landlord failed to return his/her deposit, the court could go ahead and decide the deposit issue even though it is not a federal question. Supplemental jurisdiction, however, is discretionary, meaning the court can exercise it or not as the court sees fit.

If you have a civil matter that you wish to file in federal court, the best way to find out if it can be filed in federal court is to consult with an experienced Conshohocken, Pennsylvania civil litigation attorney. Contact the civil litigation attorneys at Curley & Rothman, LLC by calling 610-834-8819 today to schedule your free consultation.