What is the Difference between Federal Court and State Court?

Most citizens living in Pittsburgh, PA are familiar with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (“Court of Common Pleas”). However, most individuals don’t realize that there is another court in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (“District Court”) sits a few blocks over from the Court of Common Pleas. While both are Courts of Law, there are vast differences between the two.

What are the main differences between the Court of Common Pleas and District Court?

The main difference is that different types of law apply at each respective Court. The Court of Common Pleas hears only Pennsylvania State Laws. The District Court has the power to hear cases involving Pennsylvania State Laws and Federal Laws. An example of a Federal Law that most people are familiar with is the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Therefore, if an individual wants to bring a discrimination claim under the ADA, he/she would bring that lawsuit in Federal Court.

What are the benefits to bringing a lawsuit in District Court?

The obvious benefit is that you can bring suits involving Federal Law, which sometimes demand higher settlement amounts.

Second, District Court tends to resolve cases a lot faster than the Court of Common Pleas. In District Court, at the outset of the case, the Judge will create a timeline for when everything must be completed. The Judge will state when all discovery must be completed and when trial will take place. This avoids a long drawn-out process. There are very few delays in District Court.

Third, when bringing a lawsuit in District Court, each case is assigned to a specific Judge and you will have that Judge for the duration the case. This means one Judge will be handling all issues that arise. In the Court of Common Pleas, a case can be bounced around to several different Judges. But in District Court, one Judge rules on all motions and helps each party facilitate a settlement.

Fourth, District Court requires both parties to participate in some form of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) to help resolve the case prior to going to trial. Most parties choose to participate in Mediation prior to resorting to a lengthy trial. Most cases are settled during Mediation. District Court gives parties an extra incentive to resolve the case prior to trial. The Court of Common Pleas does not require that parties engage in Mediation prior to trial.

Fifth, both parties are required to exchange certain information at the outset of the case. A lot of discovery is exchanged at the beginning of the case. Therefore, both parties have most of discovery prior to engaging in ADR and attempting to resolve the case.

These are just a few benefits of bringing a suit in District Court. However, which Court to use depends on what type of lawsuit is being filed.