The Difference Between State and Federal Courts

Posted about 3 years ago. Applies to New York, 1 helpful vote



Which Court System Should You Bring a Lawsuit In?

There are different jurisdictional requirements. New York State Supreme Court is a court of "general jurisdiction," meaning that it can handle a very wide variety of matters. To start a lawsuit in NYS Supreme Court, you must be seeking more than$25,000 or a non-monetary remedy (for example, an injunction). Federal court, on the other hand, has limited jurisdiction, and your case must fit within its requirements. There are some kinds of cases that can only be handled by state court, such as matrimonial matters.


What are the Grounds for Federal Jurisdiction?

The main two grounds for federal jurisdiction are "Federal question jurisdiction," meaning that the case involves issues that arise under federal law, or that there is "diversity jurisdiction." Diversity jurisdiction means that none of the persons who are suing reside in the same state as any of the persons who are being sued. For diversity jurisdiction, the claim must involve the sum of at least $75,000.


Are There Cases In Which I Have A Choice?

Some cases can only be brought in state court and some can only be brought in federal court, but there also are many cases that can be brought in either court system. In such cases, the decision can be made based upon both strategic and practical considerations.


How Do the Judges Differ?

Judges in NYS Supreme Court (called "Justices") are elected by voters to 14-year terms. Federal judges, on the other hand, are appointed to lifetime terms by the President of the United States. The federal courts have second-level judicial officers known as "Magistrate Judges," who are appointed by the other federal judges and who handle many of the pre-trial proceedings.


Do Cases Move At The Same Speed Through Both Court Systems?

NYS Supreme Court has far more cases than federal court. This is largely due to the fact that all matrimonial proceedings and most personal injury actions are brought in state court. Those two categories account for more cases than any other matters. Plus, the minimum $75,000 requirement for all "diversity" cases reduces the number of such cases. One can thus expect a case, generally and all things being equal, to move a bit more quickly through the federal system.

Additional Resources

Law Offices of Michael S. Haber

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