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Why Are There So Many Courts? Where Do I File A Case?

Different Courts Handle Variety of Disputes
U.S. District Courthouse, Boston

Courts exist in many varieties, matching the multiple types of disputes that people have.

Personal injury attorneys have a duty to diligently pursue a clients best interests, meaning selecting the right forum is critical.

Federal Courts

The law provides limited jurisdiction in federal courthouses. They handle only those cases specified by federal statutes. These courts address only two types of civil cases, those with whats called federal question jurisdiction and those in which there is diversity of citizenship between the parties.

Federal question jurisdiction applies when federal law applies to the case. Civil rights violations provide a prime example.

Diversity of citizenship jurisdiction requires that the plaintiff and the defendant reside in different states. Also, the amount in controversy must be at least $75,000. The feds refuse smaller cases, generally only cases with catastrophic personal injuries are decided in federal court.

State Courts

State laws vary. Generally, larger civil cases go to superior courts, while district courts handle a volume of smaller disputes, often motor vehicle accident injuries.

For example, Massachusetts superior courts hold original jurisdiction in civil actions over $25,000. File a case here in which the likelihood of recovery is below that dollar amount, and the case can be dismissed. Massachusetts district courts handle civil cases including accident cases in which the likelihood of recovery does not exceed $25,000.

New Hampshire superior courts maintain exclusive jurisdiction over cases in which the damage claims exceed $25,000. They can also handle any civil case with a minimum claim of $1,500 where either party requests a jury trial. What New Hampshire currently calls the circuit court district division shares jurisdiction with the superior court over civil actions in which the damages claimed do not exceed $25,000.

Small Claims

Most states operate small claims forums, providing an expedited way to decide disputes with less formality. Magistrates and judges handling small claims can waive the formal rules of evidence.

The law limits small claims awards. For example, small claims cases in Massachusetts may not exceed $7,000. The current ceiling on New Hampshire small claims is $10,000.

Other Legal Forums

Workers compensation claims go to an administrative forum when disputed. In Massachusetts, the Department of Industrial Accidents processes cases from an initial informal conciliation to conferences and hearings before administrative law judges. New Hampshire’s Department of Labor, Workers Compensation Division provides injured workers there with a procedure for resolution.

Bankruptcy Courts exclusively handle consumer and business bankruptcies, and litigate disputes known as core bankruptcy proceedings.

Tax Courts, another creation of Congress, handle tax disputes. Immigration courts provide an exclusive forum for immigration cases.

On the state level, housing courts in many states including Massachusetts, hear evictions, other landlord tenant disputes, and housing related cases including lead paint claims.

This can include their previous rental history and any criminal convictions. If you do not perform a background check on tenants, you run the risk of putting the safety and security of your rental property, and any other tenants who share that property, at risk

Courts and Remedies

All courts require subject matter and personal jurisdiction as the ticket in. Paper and computer forms exist appearing to provide a fill-in-the-blanks approach to getting in. But only thorough knowledge of all statutes and common law actually optimizes the case and pushes it through the courts toward full final resolution.


If you have been injured through no fault of your own contact our office. You don’t want to wade through the myriad of rules and jurisdictional consideration – that’s for your attorney. With over two decades of success we want to help you obtain a positive end result without you having to be exposed to either the insurance industry’s delays or the complexities in the judicial system. Leave it to us – contact us now.

More on Small claims court here.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

The information on this web site is offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice. Laws vary widely from state to state. You should rely only on the advice given to you during a personal consultation by a local attorney who is thoroughly familiar with state laws and the area of practice in which your concern lies. This web site must be labeled advertisement in some jurisdictions.