In beginning any lawsuit, the first matter to resolve is determining which court has jurisdiction over the matter (i.e. the authority to call both parties into court to resolve the controversy). As the person bringing a lawsuit, you will have to decide whether to bring your claim in federal or state court. Another important consideration is establishing proper venue for your lawsuit.
In addition to jurisdiction, proper venue must be established in both federal and state court. Venue is where the court is located with respect to both the parties involved and the controversy. Venue for a matter is usually based upon residence of the defendant (i.e. person against whom a claim is brought), although with some actions the venue is based upon where the plaintiff (i.e. person bringing the lawsuit) resides.
Federal courts have jurisdiction over matters involving controversies between states, questions of federal law, and controversies between parties from different states in which the amount involved exceeds $50,000. Others matters are to be brought in state courts. Under federal law, it is the requirement of the plaintiff to establish that the court has jurisdiction over the controversy.
Any matter over which a federal court cannot claim jurisdiction will have to be brought in state court. State courts typically have a two or three tier system. Each system has a threshold dollar amount, or authority based upon subject matter. For example, small claims courts might have jurisdiction over controversies less than $5,000, municipal court for controversies less than $25,000 and superior court for controversies in excess of $25,000. In addition, there may be rules which establish special courts for certain matters (traffic courts, family law courts, juvenile law, landlord/tenant court, and probate court). In state court, it is usually the responsibility of the defendant to raise the issue that the court lacks jurisdiction over the matter, (although a judgment from a court that lacks jurisdiction can be challenged in the future).
When you retain an attorney, one of his main responsibilities is to make sure to represent your best interests; including helping you find the best venue possible. An civil rights attorney can make sure that you bring your lawsuit in the proper court, thereby making his assistance invaluable. Also, your potential recovery for a personal injury claim may be greater in one state than another. This is something your attorney will take into account.