When Can You Make A Federal Case Out Of It?

  • James Notaris

    CPA, ESQ, Legal Editor

  • Tyler Dikun

    Executive Editor

    In Brief:

  • The cases that can be adjudicated in federal and state courts differ in various ways.

  • Cases in which a person or organization break federal laws or treaties are tried in federal court.

  • Situations in which a crime is committed across state lines or committed by someone who is not an American citizen are tried in federal court.

  • Cases involving bankruptcy must always be tried in bankruptcy court - which are always federal courts. 

We’ve all heard the expression, “don’t make a federal case out of it.” But there are certain times when that may be exactly what is required. Federal and state courts have their own judicial rules and regulations that must be followed including criteria that must be met in order for a case to be heard within their chambers. Learn more about how you can make a federal case out of it and how federal court cases work.

What Constitutes A Federal Court Case?

Crimes that break laws enacted by Congress are tried in federal courts while crimes that break state legislation are tried in state courts. Bankruptcy cases, social security cases, and tax evasion are almost always tried in federal court as well. Private contract disputes are tried in state courts while securities fraud, insider trading, and takeover of corporations are tried in federal courts.

Furthermore, disputes between states, crimes that cross state lines, and cases involving airlines and railroad companies are tried in federal court due to their multi-state and multi-national nature. As such, federal court cases require a crime that breaks federal law or a crime that involves multiple states, countries, or citizenships.

What Constitutes Federal Jurisdiction?

The most important deciding factor in what constitutes a federal case is jurisdiction. For instance, bankruptcy cases must always be tried in bankruptcy court. Therefore, a federal court has the power to dismiss a case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In civil cases, there are two extremely important categories of subject-matter jurisdiction that these cases must fulfill.

  • Federal question jurisdiction: federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction in all cases that pertain to the Constitution, treaties, or federal laws.
  • Diversity jurisdiction: in cases that involve citizens from different states or someone who is not a citizen of the United States, federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction. The one caveat to diversity jurisdiction is that cases must involve more than $75,000 in damages. A case with damages below this threshold must be adjudicated in state courts.

Consult Your Attorney First

Always consult your attorney before taking any legal action. Although the rules for what constitutes a federal case seem clear cut, there are certain variables that can make a case a state matter instead. Learn more about legal statute on Whatthelawis.com.

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