Posts

Contract Cases in Federal Court

When your business is sued in federal court, it can be a strange and surprising experience. A common question that we receive from business owners is, “How can my business be sued in federal court over a contract? Isn’t federal court just for crimes and serious litigation?”

How it Works

In most cases, federal cases over contracts are brought because one party is from a different state than the opposing party and there is more than $75,000 in damages that are at issue in the lawsuit. In other words, your first instinct might be right: a contract case only enters the federal court because it is a pretty big deal. 

Beyond this, contract cases in federal court are much different than contract cases in state court. A breach of contract action requires that the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) demonstrate that the defendant violated the terms of an agreement. This agreement doesn’t have to necessarily be written (although it usually is when there is a lot of money at stake). 

Several defenses to contract actions exist, including proof that the contract was impossible to perform or that the plaintiff violated the contract first. In rare cases, the contract itself might violate state or federal law, which means it cannot be enforced in court.

More About Federal Court Cases

Cases in federal court should be taken seriously because they tend to move quickly. This is especially true of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, often referred to as “the rocket docket” because of the speed with which the cases move to trial. In other words, if you are not preparing from day one, you are not going to be ready by the time the case gets to the summary judgement phase and to trial. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

If you or your business has been sued in federal court, it is important to seek litigation attorneys who can handle your case. Contact the Cornerstone Law Firm and speak with our experienced federal litigators to discuss your options in moving forward and how you can best defend your case.

Representation in Federal Court

If you’ve been sued in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, there are a number of questions you will need to confront quickly. These questions include whether you were properly sued in the Eastern District, whether the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has “personal jurisdiction” over you in a lawsuit, and whether you have any counter-claims or defenses that you will need to raise in your first pleadings.

In federal court, if you have been served with a complaint you typically have only 21 days from the date of service to answer. If you waive service in advance, you will have longer to respond. 

Does Your Case Belong in Federal Court?

In addition to determining counterclaims and affirmative defenses available to you, an important question you should analyze is whether the case belongs in federal court rather than state court. Unlike state courts, federal courts are of limited jurisdiction, which means they can only handle cases specifically authorized by the Constitution and by Congress.

Whether the case you are involved in falls under those categories of cases authorized by Congress and the Constitution is a question requiring legal analysis that needs to be done immediately to determine whether the court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claim. 

Choosing Your Next Steps

Additionally, like any other case, as a defendant, you need to decide up front whether you wish to fight the case and defend it on its merits or attempt to settle it and avoid the rising costs of defending a lawsuit. This decision can be difficult, but is made easier when you really understand the likelihood of your success in defending a case and the possible risks involved in losing it. This requires an exploration of the facts and law that gave rise to the lawsuit.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is sometimes called the “rocket docket” because of the speed with which litigation moves and the promptness of trial dates. Most cases in the Eastern District are set for trial in less than a year from the date the suit is filed. This is remarkably fast for courts of any kind and makes the Eastern District of Pennsylvania one of the most fast-paced courts in the country. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Don’t make a federal case out of it.” This simple expression confirms one truth about federal cases—they are serious and shouldn’t be ignored.

If you have been sued in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, we welcome you to contact Cornerstone Law Firm. Contact us today for a consultation on your federal case:

What is an amicus brief?

An amicus brief is a legal document filed with a court by an organization or group that is not a formal party to an action, requesting a particular outcome. An outside group can petition the court for permission to be recognized as an amicus curiae—a “friend of the court”—who can help the court in its decision making by offering a unique perspective on a legal issue.

Amicus briefs (pronounced as “uh-MEE-cus” or alternatively, “AM-i-cus”) usually focus on a solution not proposed by either party to a lawsuit, or on a specific aspect of the proposal of one party. For example, let’s say that a dispute called Hot Dog Stand v. City reaches an appellate court over whether a hot dog is a sandwich, and thus subject to regulation in a large city. Let’s also suppose that the Hot Dog Stand owners might make two arguments: 1) that a hot dog is not a sandwich under the statute in question; or in the alternative, that even though a hot dog meets the definition of a sandwich under the statute, 2) that all regulation of sandwiches is unconstitutional under the state or federal constitution. What would a group of sandwich shops who are watching this case think? They might have a strong interest in asking the court for permission to file an amicus brief detailing the negative impact of regulations on their industry and asking the court to consider the hot dog shop’s second ruling. They might want to urge the court to rule in such a way as to help them also.

Or let’s consider a fictional case called Sultan of Middle Eastern Nation v. University in America, in which the court is considering whether a foreign ruler has to answer a civil lawsuit in the United States by a private university that claims their invention is being illegally reproduced and sold by the Sultan’s government. A non-profit group disgusted with the Sultan’s actions in his home country may file a brief detailing those abuses, urging the court to make the Sultan answerable here in America. The University can avoid bringing up an argument that will make it look like it is just crusading against the Sultan, but they may be grateful to an “unrelated” party who files such a brief, giving the court more moral support for a favorable ruling for the University.

In the legal industry, there are non-profits whose sole purpose is to advocate on specific issues, jumping into active cases to offer the court well-reasoned commentary on why a certain outcome is preferred. The Innocence Project often files amicus briefs on prisoners’ rights; the ACLU advocates for its views on the separation of church and state; the Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for broader First Amendment protections; and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund looks for opportunities to advocate for broader protections for comic book authors and artists. You get the drift.

Amicus briefs perform an important function in our legal system, giving judges a unique perspective on an issue, and offering support for the rationale of one party or another. They also give non-profits and other groups a voice in our legal system that they might not otherwise enjoy.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we offer to represent non-profits or other groups who form for the purpose of presenting an argument in an ongoing case of concern in state or federal court. Our appellate attorneys have experience advocating here in Pennsylvania state courts, and in federal courts. If you have an issue you wish to take up, we welcome you to reach out to us to discuss how we can help you be involved in an issue of public concern in the courts.