Every law student and lawyer knows that they need a non-frivolous suit if they want to file a claim on behalf of their client(s). Sounds easy enough, right? But take a few steps back. Before you file a claim, you need to know where to file. And unless you're a civil procedure guru, that decision may be more complicated than you might initially think. Have no fear! This post will lay out an example of a state court system, using Florida. A subsequent post will detail the Federal court system.
There are four main courts in Florida, and each one has its own rules for filing and its own jurisdictional ground.
As you can see above, the FL system can be fairly simple to navigate once you understand all of the pieces.
Florida County Map
County Courts: These courts are lowest on the totem pole because they deal only with claims involving citizen disputes such as traffic offenses, county and city ordinance violations, less serious criminal offenses, and civil cases involving less than $15,000, such as landlord/tenant disputes. There are 69 counties in FL, and each one will have their own courthouse (possibly more than one depending on the size of the county) that deals with these claims. This is your first choice as an attorney if your client's suit falls within the county court jurisdiction.
Florida Circuit Map
Circuit Courts: These courts have general jurisdiction, which means that they can handle practically any suit brought before them, such as domestic relations, major criminal offenses, probate issues, civil cases with amounts greater than $15,000 as well as any appeals from the County Courts. Fla. Stat. sec. 26.012 gives the circuit courts their jurisdiction, and Fla. Stat. sec. 47.011 provides the standard for proper venue. Florida has 20 circuits. Please note that these circuits are different than the Federal circuit courts, which we'll discuss in a moment.
Florida District Courts of Appeal Map
District Courts of Appeal: There are 5 DCA in Florida. These courts decide appeals from the circuit courts in most criminal and civil cases. They also have jurisdiction to decide appeals from county courts when a state statute or provision of the state constitution is held invalid, or for orders or judgments certified to be of great public importance. The courthouses are located in: Tallahassee, Lakeland/Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, and Daytona Beach. As a practical matter, the DCA is the final appellate review of litigated cases. If, however, your client is still dissatisfied with the DCA decision, they may appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Florida Supreme Court
Supreme Court of Florida: Located in Tallahassee, the Florida Supreme Court has two types of jurisdiction: mandatory and permissive.
Mandatory jurisdiction exists over death penalty cases, district court decisions declaring a state statute or provision of the state constitution invalid, bond validation judgments, and actions of statewide agencies relating to public utilities.
Permissive jurisdiction exists over hearing DCA decisions that expressly declare a state statute valid, questions certified by DCA as being of great public importance, or conflicting DCA decisions.
If you choose to file in state court in Florida, therefore, you will likely file either in County or Circuit court depending upon the amount in controversy and other factors.