The Difference Between Federal Court and State Court
If you did not know, there are different types of courts. Not all cases are heard in the same court or court system. Namely, there are state and federal courts. This means if you have a claim that does not necessarily mean your claim will be heard at your local county courthouse. It may be pending in the federal court in which your county sits. There can be many reasons your case may be in federal court as opposed to state court, or vice versa. Here are some of the basic differences between federal and state court.
To start, a state court is the local court in your county. For example, the state court for a resident of Ohio County, West Virginia is the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia. On the other hand, federal courts are comprised of many counties, not just a singular one. Sticking with the State of West Virginia example, there are two federal courts in the State of West Virginia: the Northern District of West Virginia and the Southern District of West Virginia. Ohio County is a part of the Northern District of West Virginia.
An important point to keep in mind, though, is the fact that you live in one county does not necessarily mean any claim you have is restricted to that county or that federal district court. The court, whether state or federal, must have jurisdiction over the claim. Generally, state courts hear a variety of different cases, especially cases that are sounding in tort and/or contract. It is key to bear in mind, “[s]tate courts are the final arbiters of state law and constitutions.” Although state courts typically hear tort and contract cases, amongst other claims, that does not necessarily mean a tort and/or contract case cannot be heard in federal court. With that said, the federal court must have jurisdiction over the claim.
Federal courts can handle different cases than state courts. For instance, federal courts hear cases dealing with bankruptcy, admiralty law, cases dealing with the constitutionality of the law and disputes between two or more states, amongst other types of issues. In addition to the aforementioned types of cases, federal courts may have jurisdiction over a case brought in state court. Indeed, sometimes, a case is originally filed in state court and subsequently removed to federal court.
If you live in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia, it is important to know how many federal courts are in your respective state. In Ohio, there two federal courts: the Northern District of Ohio and the Southern District of Ohio. In Pennsylvania, there are three federal courts: the Western District of Pennsylvania, the Middle District of Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Finally, in West Virginia, there are two federal courts: the Northern District of West Virginia and the Southern District of West Virginia. As alluded to above, each federal district court includes a number of counties.
As one can likely tell, although state and federal courts are separate, the two court systems interact with each other. Also, keep in mind just because a case is filed in state court does not necessarily mean it will stay in state court. The facts and circumstances of the claim will dictate what court the case will be pending in and ultimately potentially tried. Understanding the basic differences between federal and state court can go a long way in appreciating the nuances of the different court systems.