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How to sue multiple defendants in different states?

Phoenix, AZ |

I have a suit consisting of everything from defamation/slander to libel, public disclosure of private facts and vicarious liability, just to name a few. All of the defendants live in different states. Would I simply file one complaint in Federal Court or do I have to file in each individuals district court?

I suppose I am a little confused on the jurisdiction of Federal Court so if anyone can explain I would greatly appreciate it.

Attorney Answers 5


The federal courts are courts of "limited" jurisdiction.

Federal courts hear cases involving the constitutionality of a law; cases involving the laws and treaties of the U.S.; ambassadors and public ministers; disputes between two or more states;
admiralty law; and bankruptcy cases.

First, a case that raises such a "federal question" may be filed in federal court.

Second, a case also may be filed in federal court based on the "diversity of citizenship" of the litigants, such as between citizens of different states, or between United States citizens and those of another country.

To ensure fairness to the out-of-state litigant, the Constitution provides that such cases may be heard in a federal court. An important limit to diversity jurisdiction is that only cases involving more than $75,000 in potential damages may be filed in a federal court.

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In state court, you can sue in any county where the events occurred, or where any defendant lives.

In Federal court you must either have a claim arising under the U.S. Constitution or federal law, or it must be a civil action where the P & D live in different states and the amount in controversy is over $75K.

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You have been asking about federal courts, but what you really should be asking (or searching for) is a local attorney. Some Internet scam statutes allow you to sue where you live. Federal case are fine, if the issue is $75,000 and you meet the federal rules. You will not be able to navigate the maze of federal jurisdiction with your lawsuit. Hire an attorney, after discussing fees.

We do not have a client/attorney relationship until you make an appointment, we discuss your case face to face, I accept a retainer, and we explictly agree to enter into representation.

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Your question is really two parts: 1) File in federal court or not? 2) File one case or a handful?

1) Federal court will only apply if there is a federal question or if the parties are citizens of different states, and the claims are worth more than $75,000. It sounds like there is no federal question in your case, so if any of the defendants live in your state (presumably Arizona) then you can't get it into federal court (unless you leave the AZ parties out of it).

2) As far as filing against everyone in one case or not, it sounds like you might HAVE to do that. If everyone is involved in one big collection of events, failing to do so might be deemed failure to join an indispensable party.

So, speak to a local attorney about the full set of facts you are dealing with. But, from the sound of it, it sounds like you'll be filing in state court, with all of your defendants lumped together.

Then the fun of determining personal jurisdiction comes into play -- but you've not shared enough facts to analyze that.

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Before filing a lawsuit seeking relief for defamation, especially internet defamation, you should seek a defamation or internet law attorney's advice. If you want to sue multiple out-of-state wrongdoers for harm they caused you over the internet that affected you in the state where you live there could be some tricky jurisdictional issues in your case. Moreover, there are federal and state laws that need to be analyzed before bringing such a lawsuit. A defamation or internet law attorney practicing in your state should be able to advise you.

A very important U.S. Supreme Court case, Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), established a personal jurisdiction rule, often called the "Calder Effects Test," that could enable you to sue out-of-state wrongdoers in your state's courts for less than $75,000 if they defamed you or intended to cause you severe emotional distress knowing or while being substantially certain you would feel the effects of their wrongful actions in your state.

Your state's long-arm statute and the case law construing it will likely shine some light on whether the Calder Effects Test would apply in your case.

You may read the Calder v. Jones case online using Google Scholar. Follow the link below.

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