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What is Forum Shopping?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Forum shopping occurs when a plaintiff or defendant have two possible courts where a legal case can be heard. The plaintiff and defendant can then decide which court they believe is going to view their case more favorably and is more likely to decide in their favor. Forum shopping is discouraged by rules of civil procedure but is not entirely eliminated.

When concurrent jurisdiction is available, forum shopping can occur. Jurisdiction refers to the right of a court to hear a given case. A court has to have both subject matter and personal jurisdiction to be able to preside over a particular case and make a decision. Subject matter jurisdiction means the court has some legal interest in the subject the dispute is about. Personal jurisdiction means the state or federal area in which the court is located has provided a sufficient enough benefit to the plaintiff and defendant that it is fair for the court to decide what happens to them.

Sometimes, more than one court has both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. For example, if a company does business in both Florida and New York, both Florida and New York would have personal jurisdiction over them. If a plaintiff wanted to sue that company, the plaintiff would be able to sue in either Florida court or in New York court. Forum shopping can thus occur when two different state courts have the right to hear a case.

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Forum shopping can also occur when both a state and a federal court have the right to hear a case. Federal courts generally have more limited jurisdiction, which means they cannot hear as many cases as state courts that have general jurisdiction. A federal court can only hear a case if the case arises out of federal law or if the two people involved in the case are from different states and if the case is about $10,000 US Dollars (USD) or more. Sometimes, a federal court has exclusive jurisdiction — such as federal bankruptcy cases — but other times, a state court can apply a federal law if the plaintiff chooses to bring the case in state court.

A plaintiff who brings a lawsuit can consider which court he believes will be best for him and can bring the case there. For example, if the plaintiff is suing over an employment dispute that involves both state law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is a federal law, the plaintiff could potentially sue in state or federal court. The defendant, if he does not wish to be in state court, could then motion to have the case removed to federal court, so he too has the right to choose his forum.

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