1. System of Federal Courts – In addition to the system of Louisiana courts described earlier in this manual, a court system established by the federal government also exists which encompasses three federal districts here in Louisiana. The federal court system is supervised by the United States Supreme Court, which was created by the United States Constitution. All federal court judges, including the justices of the Supreme Court, the judges of the appellate courts, and local United States district court judges, are appointed by the President of the United States, confirmed by the United States Senate, and serve a lifetime appointment. Louisiana is divided into three federal districts. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana encompasses the New Orleans area, Jefferson Parish, and adjacent parishes, including LaFourche, Terrebonne, and St. Mary Parishes. The Eastern District of Louisiana is headquartered in New Orleans. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana is headquartered in Baton Rouge and encompasses the surrounding parishes.
The remainder of the state, west of the Atchafalaya River and extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arkansas border, is encompassed by United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. This district is divided into certain divisions centered in Shreveport; Monroe; Alexandria; Lake Charles; and Lafayette. At the present time, three United States District Court judges sit in the Lafayette division and are also assisted by two United States District Court magistrate judges. The magistrate judges are not appointed by the President of the United States or confirmed by the Senate. They serve six-year terms and are hired by the United States District Court judges in the Western District of Louisiana. Magistrate judges try civil cases on occasion and also take care of routine matters, discovery disputes, and minor criminal cases.
2. Types of Cases Handled by Federal Courts – One important item to remember concerning federal courts is that these are not courts of general jurisdiction. This means that in order to file and prosecute a case in federal court, there must be some special statute granting the federal court jurisdiction over the matter in question. Unlike Louisiana district courts, which are required to hear all civil cases filed in the court system, federal judges will exercise their powers to dismiss cases if cases filed before them are not within those types of cases authorized by the federal jurisdictional statutes.
From a civil standpoint, the most common types of federal cases involving personal injury are cases arising from injuries suffered by individuals working on vessels, drilling rigs, or which occur on offshore oil and gas platforms. The evolution of federal maritime law and the attempt of both Congress and the courts to adapt it to the developing oilfield technology applied in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in the construction of a very complex set of laws which can produce vastly different results for an injured party, depending on when, where, and how his injury occurred. The common types of personal injury cases typically litigated in federal courts are set forth and discussed separately below.
3. Claims Against a Citizen or Corporation of Another State: A common type of civil action filed in federal court are cases between citizens of different states. Federal law grants jurisdiction to federal district courts to hear legal disputes between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy is in excess of $75,000. These are called “diversity cases” – referring to the diversity of citizenship.