In which court do I file my lawsuit?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Determining which court you can sue in is more complicated than you think. When you bring a case in a court, the court has to have two things to decide your case: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction means the court is allowed to interpret the particular laws that apply and has an interest in governing disputes of that nature. Personal jurisdiction means that you and/or the defendant you are suing have substantial-enough connections to the location the court presides over to make it fair that the court gets to rule on your case.

The court system is broadly grouped into federal and state courts, but there are more distinctions. For example, there is a federal court devoted just to bankruptcy and other federal courts that handle things like civil rights disputes or tax problems. There are also a variety of different state courts, from small claims court to family court to probate court.

In many cases, there may be a few different courts in which you may file your lawsuit. For example, if you are suing a person from a different state and there is more than $10,000 at stake, you could sue in state court or you could sue in federal court based on something called diversity jurisdiction. In other cases, you may only have the option of having the matter dealt with in one court. For example, if you are suing for divorce, you need to sue in the family court in the location where you are both residents.

Making a decision on what court you should sue in is usually a fairly legally complex choice. You want the court that not only has the right to hear your dispute, but that also is the best and most advantageous one in which to present your case. A qualified lawyer can help you to make the determination on what court is best for your lawsuit by reviewing the circumstances surrounding your cause of action.

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