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Court Directories

Before you file a lawsuit, you must make a few preliminary determinations about your case. First, you must determine whether your case involves an issue appropriate for a state or federal court. Then, you need to determine whether you have a civil or criminal case.

Finally, you need to determine where to file your lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit in an appropriate court is crucial for your case. If the court doesn't have jurisdiction over the defendant, the court generally can't hear your case.

The court must also have jurisdiction over the dispute itself. Filing your case in the wrong court may lead to extra time and expense, as you will have to refile it in a proper venue.

For example, family law courts have jurisdiction over various family law disputes, like child support matters. If you spend time and resources trying to file a family law dispute with your local bankruptcy court, you will have wasted your time.

This article begins with a brief explanation of the United States court systems and the differences between criminal and civil cases. Then, it provides an in-depth explanation of how a plaintiff may decide where to file their civil case. Finally, it provides a directory of each state's federal and state courts.

The U.S. Court System Explained

At first glance, the United States court system looks like a pyramid. The U.S. Supreme Court sits at the top of the pyramid. Below the U.S. Supreme Court sits the federal circuit courts and each state's supreme court (although some states name their highest court something other than "supreme court").

Most states have an intermediate-level court of appeals. In the pyramid structure, these sit below each state's highest court. The pyramid's base consists of federal district courts and each state's trial court (sometimes called district courts or something similar), although some states have lower courts.

Court cases generally begin at the bottom of the pyramid, in either a federal district court or a state trial court. Once the lower court issues a decision, the non-prevailing party may generally appeal the case to a superior court. Most parties may appeal a case if they lose, except for the government, when a jury acquits a criminal defendant.

Read FindLaw's Introduction to the U.S. Legal System for more information about the U.S. court system.

State and Federal Courts

Generally, state courts have jurisdiction over disputes involving state laws. For example, if you got into a car accident in Utah, you would likely file a lawsuit arising out of the accident in Utah's state courts.

Federal courts generally have jurisdiction over disputes that involve federal laws or constitutional issues. For example, if you alleged that a local government official in Utah violated one of your civil rights, you would likely file your case in one of Utah's federal district courts.

Most states also have administrative courts. Administrative courts handle niche legal disputes involving public laws. For example, Minnesotans with workers' compensation disputes will first litigate their dispute at the state's Office of Administrative Hearings.

For more information, read FindLaw's articles on state and federal courts.

Civil and Criminal Cases

Civil cases usually involve disputes between private parties. For example, a dispute between neighbors involving a property line is a civil case. Other civil cases include child support disputes and probate issues.

The government can also file civil cases. For example, a state could sue a business that allegedly violated a provision of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) in federal court.

Both federal and state governments bring criminal charges (e.g., misdemeanors and felonies) against people and entities violating federal and state laws, respectively. Criminal cases involve offenses against society. Whether the state or federal government prosecutes a case depends on where the offenses occurred, the nature of the offense, and which laws the person or entity broke.

Sometimes, civil and criminal cases overlap. For more information about civil and criminal cases and when they overlap, read FindLaw's article explaining them in more detail.

Where to File a Lawsuit

Determining the proper venue for your lawsuit involves several considerations. A court must have jurisdiction over the parties to a lawsuit (i.e., the plaintiffs and defendants in a civil case or the defendant in a criminal case), as well as the subject matter of the dispute.

Jurisdiction refers to the court's ability to interpret laws, apply them, and render a decision in a particular case. A court without both personal and subject-matter jurisdiction over a case can't adjudicate it.

A court must have personal jurisdiction over the parties to a lawsuit. In most civil cases, this means the plaintiff must file their case in the county where the defendant lives or works. But the constitutional test for personal jurisdiction depends on whether the party had "minimum contacts" with the state or county where the plaintiff files their case.

The court must also have subject matter jurisdiction over the case's cause of action or issue. For example, juvenile courts generally only have jurisdiction over minors. Bankruptcy courts only have jurisdiction over issues related to bankruptcy. Federal district courts generally only have jurisdiction over issues arising under federal law.

Because the government prosecutes criminal cases, a private citizen doesn't need to worry about where to file a criminal case. Instead, the U.S. attorney or state district attorneys will decide where to file the case.

The following sections describe several different types of courts with limited jurisdiction, along with links providing more in-depth information. The links also provide directories for each state's respective court system, if any.

Bankruptcy Courts

Bankruptcy courts are federal courts that hear personal, business, and other bankruptcy cases. You can't file a bankruptcy case in your local state court. Declaring bankruptcy allows the person or entity filing to erase their debts or create a repayment plan.

This link provides more information about bankruptcy courts near you.

Family Courts

State family courts hear all family law disputes. For example, state family courts have jurisdiction over the following types of disputes:

For more information and a directory of your state's family courts, read FindLaw's State Family Courts article.

Immigration Courts

The U.S. Immigration Courts are federal courts that decide whether non-citizens may enter or remain in the United States. Immigration court judges are attorneys the Attorney General appoints to decide immigration issues. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) provides a directory of immigration courts and judges.

Probate Courts

Probate courts resolve issues involving wills and disputes involving how to distribute a deceased person's estate. The petitioner begins their probate case by filing a petition for probate in a state probate court. FindLaw's article, What Is Probate Court? provides more detailed information about the probate process and each state's probate courts.

Small Claims Courts

Each state has a small claims court. The small claims court generally may adjudicate specific types of civil cases that don't exceed a specified dollar amount. Each state has different rules regarding the jurisdiction of small claims courts. For more information, read FindLaw's article on small claims courts.

Court Directories by State

Below, you will find links to federal and state courts for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The links may also provide court contact information, court forms, and other court services. The list doesn't include specialty courts, such as state-specific housing courts or juvenile courts.

If you need help determining where to file a case, consider contacting the clerk's office at a state trial court or federal district court near you. The court clerk and other court administrators can't provide legal advice, but they can provide various procedural information, like how to file a case. Alternatively, contact a litigation attorney near you for specific legal advice about your case and where to file it.

For more information about the judicial system, consider visiting your state's judicial branch website or contacting your state's bar association.



 District of Columbia
 New Hampshire
 New York
 North Carolina
 North Dakota
 Rhode Island
 South Carolina
 South Dakota
 West Virginia


Need Help? Contact an Attorney

If you have questions about how to file a lawsuit, contact a litigation attorney near you. An experienced litigation attorney can provide helpful legal advice regarding the following:

  • Finding defense or litigation strategies for your particular case
  • Filing a complaint in a proper venue
  • Preparing for an upcoming court case, including researching relevant local court rules

Consider contacting an attorney near you for help with your civil or criminal case.

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