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State Court in Tennessee vs. Federal Court in Tennessee: Advantages and Disadvantages

What are the differences between litigating a breach of contract case, personal injury case, or any other type of case in a Tennessee federal district court as opposed to a Tennessee state trial court? Which court is better for your case? When can your case be filed in federal court as opposed to state court?

The first thing to consider is whether or not your case can be filed in federal court. The federal trial courts in Tennessee, which are referred to as federal district courts, are courts of “limited jurisdiction,” as we lawyers say. By “limited jurisdiction” what we mean, in a very general sense, is that, of all of the cases that can be filed in a Tennessee state court, only a limited number of those could also be filed in a Tennessee federal district court.

A federal district court has jurisdiction over two broad categories of cases: (1) Diversity jurisdiction cases; and (2) federal subject matter jurisdiction cases. A federal court in Tennessee can hear a case (because it has jurisdiction to do so) where the case involves citizens of different states and where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00. A Tennessee federal court also has jurisdiction over cases brought under federal laws and statutes which specifically provide for federal court jurisdiction like overtime pay cases under the FLSA, or age discrimination cases under the ADEA.

Sometimes, a party can choose whether to bring a case in a Tennessee federal court or in a Tennessee state court because both courts have jurisdiction. In the same vein, sometimes a defendant sued in a Tennessee state court can, as we lawyers say, “remove” the case (have it transferred) to a Tennessee federal court. The following general observations about the difference between having a case in a Tennessee federal court as opposed to a Tennessee state court are not universal truths, and other lawyers might have had different observations, although I think most lawyers would agree with them. (Only a lawyer who is familiar with the facts of your case can give you sound advice about where to file or where to defend your case).

The federal district judges in Tennessee, on the whole, tend to require more scheduling, and planning (case management) and briefing than do state court judges. The downside of this fact is that it makes cases in federal district court take more attorney time (and, if you are paying by the hour, more fees). The upside is that it results in the faster resolution of cases in many instances.

I know a lawyer who believes that it is better to try a plaintiff’s case in federal court because the federal courtrooms are larger and more impressive than a whole lot of courtrooms in Tennessee state courthouses. He believes that a more impressive courtroom has a tendency to make a jury take the case more seriously, and consequently, to be inclined to award more money to a plaintiff. Juries being what they are, I don’t know if there is a correlation between the impressiveness of the courtroom and larger jury verdicts in every case, but I am convinced it could make a difference with some juries.

If you are sued in state court in Tennessee, it might be in your best interest to remove the case against you to federal court. You might want to do this because the state court judge in your case is not particularly good, fair or competent, or because the county where you were sued is populated by people that might not like you or your company. A defendant only has a limited amount of time to remove a case to a Tennessee federal court once he or she is served. So, if you are served with a complaint filed in a Tennessee state court, another good reason to contact a Tennessee trial lawyer right away is to make sure you don’t miss the deadline for removal if removal to federal court is in your best interest.