California State Court vs. Federal Court

The differences between California State Court and Federal Court are the topic of this blog post.

State courts and federal courts constitute the two kinds of courts in this country.


One of the most important differences between state courts and federal courts is their jurisdiction. The term jurisdiction refers to the types of cases that a court is authorized to hear.

State courts have much broader jurisdiction than federal courts in matters where the average citizen is most likely to be involved such as criminal matters such as robberies, infractions such as traffic violations, and civil matters such as breach of contract cases, family law disputes and personal injury cases.

State courts are not allowed to hear lawsuits against the United States as well as those involving certain federal laws such as antitrust, bankruptcy, copyright, criminal, patent and some maritime cases.

The jurisdiction of the federal courts is limited to the types of cases that are listed in the United States Constitution and specifically provided for by Congress.

As a general rule federal courts only hear:

  • Cases in which the United States is a party;
  • Federal-question jurisdiction cases which involve violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal laws;
  • Diversity jurisdiction cases between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, and
  • Bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and maritime law cases.

However there are cases where both state and federal courts have jurisdiction.

In some cases, both federal and state courts have jurisdiction. This allows parties to choose whether to go to state court or to federal court.

For example the federal courts may hear cases concerning the laws of the State of California if the issue is whether a particular law of the State of California violates the federal Constitution.

Another example would be a case where the conduct is illegal under both federal and state laws.

Both federal and state laws prohibit employment discrimination. This means that an individual can go to a federal or state court to bring a case under the federal law or both the federal and state laws.

A case that involves only a state law can only be filed in a state court.

Other differences between state court and federal court include:


With the recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) the pleading standards in federal court have become stricter. A plaintiff must state a plausible claim for relief in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations.

Thus a pleading in federal court must contain more specific allegations than what would generally be required in a California State Court although fraud claims in California must be alleged with specificity.

The stricter pleading standards in federal court have resulted in some plaintiffs having their cases dismissed for failure to state a claim.


The discovery process in federal court is different from that used in a California State Court.

The judge that is hearing a case in federal court is much more involved in the discovery process than would be the case with a judge in California State Court hearing a similar case.

For example California law allows a plaintiff to serve to serve written discovery on the defendant as soon as ten days after service of the summons and complaint.

In federal court however, unless you obtain leave of court you cannot propound any written discovery or take any depositions until after the parties and court have participated in the mandatory conference among counsel required by Rule 26(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Each party in federal court is required by Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to disclose facts and information to all other parties in a lawsuit even before they are served with a discovery request. The disclosure must be completed at or within 14 days after the parties Rule 26(f) conference unless a different time is set by stipulation or court order, or unless a party objects during the conference that initial disclosures are not appropriate in this action and states the objection in the proposed discovery plan.

Unlike California State Court a party in federal court is limited by Rule 33(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to propounding no more than 25 written interrogatories, including all discrete subparts unless they have been granted leave of court.  In California State Court a party may propound 35 interrogatories in an unlimited civil case as a matter of right and may even propound more than 35 so long as they attach a special declaration specifying the specific reasons why they need to propound the additional interrogatories.


The great majority of judges are impartial and unbiased. However there is always the risk that a party may be assigned to a judge that is not impartial and unbiased and has a bad reputation.

The law in California, specifically Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 allows an attorney or a party to ligation to file a simple form that can be used to disqualify a judge, court commissioner, or court referee whom an attorney or party has reason to believe is prejudiced against them or their interests. No specific reason needs to be stated. However any peremptory challenge must be filed and served within the time limits specified in section 170.6 and only one peremptory challenge may be filed by any attorney or party pursuant to section 170.6.

In federal court however there is no statutory procedure that allows a peremptory challenge to a judge.  However an attorney or party may file an affidavit to disqualify a judge under the provisions of Tile 28 United States Code, section 144 which states that,

“Whenever a party to any proceeding in a district court makes and files a timely and sufficient affidavit that the judge before whom the matter is pending has a personal bias or prejudice either against him or in favor of any adverse party, such judge shall proceed no further therein, but another judge shall be assigned to hear such proceeding.

The affidavit shall state the facts and the reasons for the belief that bias or prejudice exists, and shall be filed not less than ten days before the beginning of the term at which the proceeding is to be heard, or good cause shall be shown for failure to file it within such time. A party may file only one such affidavit in any case. It shall be accompanied by a certificate of counsel of record stating that it is made in good faith.”


Many attorneys charge a significantly higher hourly rate for representing a party in any litigation in federal court. The rationale for the higher hourly rate is the complexity of the federal court system as opposed to a state court.

A party that has the option of filing in either state court or federal court should consult with an experienced attorney who can analyze the facts of their unique situation and recommend the best course of action.

Despite the differences between state court and federal court as described in this article there are situations where it makes more sense to file in federal court instead of a state court.

Schedule a consultation today.

Call (800) 691-2721 and let’s talk about your options.


Thank you for reading. I hope I could have been educational as I endeavor to provide my knowledge as a free public service. Please note that all the materials and information on this blog are general analyses made available for the public’s general informational purposes only. These analyses are not in any way intended to serve as specific legal advice to be applied in your particular situation. Although I am an attorney, absent a signed retention and engagement letter, I am not your attorney. There are no exceptions to this rule. Moreover, you shall not rely on the information I am providing you, as it is only for your general knowledge and educational purposes, since this information would likely change based on any additional facts. Thus the transmission and receipt of information on this blog by anyone does not form or constitute an attorney-client relationship. My knowledge of laws is limited to California. Anyone receiving any information on this blog should not act upon the information provided without first obtaining the services of professional legal counsel licensed in their respective jurisdiction. Best of luck.


Law Offices of Nathan Mubasher
2621 Green River Rd, Ste 105 PMB 403
Corona, CA 92882
tel 1-800-691-2721 | fax 1-310-356-3660


Author: nathanmubasher

Attorney Nathan Mubasher earned a post-doctorate LL.M. in International Financial Transactions with emphasis on Money Laundering and Compliance at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a J.D. at American College of Law, and his B.A. at University of California, Riverside. He is a member of the State Bar of California and is admitted to practice before all state and federal courts in California. He is also an active member of the American Health Lawyers Association and the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys. He has performed over 1,000 mediations and has Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) training from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

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