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Filing a Lawsuit in Federal Court

By: Marc A. Campsen

The first question facing an attorney after determining to file a lawsuit is: where to file – state or federal court? Although the vast majority of potential claims arising under federal or state laws may be brought in state court, access to federal court is significantly more circumscribed. In essence, access to federal court is limited to claims falling within two discrete categories – federal question and diversity of citizenship.

The first category – federal question – extends federal jurisdiction to “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In other words, only claims arising under federal law, not state law, fall within the “federal question” category.