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Litigation Corner: Which Court Does What in Federal Courts?

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Liza C. Moore
Foster Swift Agricultural Law Update
April 22, 2014

The last Agricultural Law Update gave an overview of the courts created by Michigan’s Constitution and laws. The federal court system has its own courts that were created by Article III of the United States Constitution and Congress. 

United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  The U.S. district courts are the trial courts of the federal judicial system. Federal courts decide cases that involve the U.S. government and federal agencies and cases that involve a “federal question,” such as whether a law is constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, whether a federal statute or treatise has been violated, or whether someone is entitled to a federal benefit, like Social Security. The U.S. district courts also hear admiralty cases, matters involving ambassadors, and all bankruptcy cases. Federal courts may also decide cases where the plaintiff and defendant are from different states, if those cases involve claims for more than $75,000 in damages. Michigan is divided into two districts. The Western District hears cases from the Western side of the state and the Upper Peninsula. The Eastern District hears cases from the Eastern side of the state.

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  The federal district courts are organized into twelve regional circuits. Michigan is in the Sixth Circuit, along with Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Final decisions from Michigan’s U.S. District Courts are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  The Sixth Circuit hears oral argument in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction over appeals in specialized areas, such as patent litigation.

United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court chooses what cases it will hear. Parties can ask the Supreme Court to hear their cases by filing a petition for writ of certiorari.  Parties can try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from a decision of state or federal appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court hears only a few cases each year. The Supreme Court only grants petitions for certiorari in cases the Court decides involve legal questions of great significance.

Like the state court system, the federal court system has its own sets of rules and procedures.  Each court has its own specific requirements, and many judges set their own individualized rules for his or her courtroom.  Only your attorney can be sure that you comply with the court rules and that you do not miss important deadlines that could have serious financial implications for you and your business.