Circuit Courts vs. District Courts


In addition to the United States Supreme Court, the federal judiciary is comprised of District Courts and Circuit Courts (or Federal courts of appeals).

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning they usually only hear cases authorized by the United States Constitution or federal statutes. There are exemptions to this such as cases entirely based on state law being brought to federal court under “diversity jurisdiction.” Diversity jurisdiction allows a plaintiff of one state to file a lawsuit in federal court when the defendant is located in a different state. In such cases, the “amount in controversy” must be more than $75,000. Criminal cases may not be brought under diversity jurisdiction.

District Courts are “lower” and have the responsibility for holding trials. Litigation goes first to the District Court level. Circuit Courts are appellate courts that do not hold trials but are for appeals for cases decided by the lower court. Several different district courts may fall under the same appellate (circuit) court. District courts hear both civil and criminal cases.

In a District Court case, only one judge is assigned to a case. There are 94 District Courts throughout the US and the associated territories, including Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands.There are over 670 district court judges nationwide. Each federal district also has a bankruptcy court for those proceedings. Additionally, some courts have nationwide jurisdiction for issues such as tax (United States Tax Court), claims against the federal government (United States Court of Federal Claims), and international trade (United States Court of International Trade).

The Circuit Court System is smaller with only administrative regions. Many of the Circuit Court systems are spread over many buildings and cities. Circuit Court judges rotate through each of these regions in the “circuit.” Each case in circuit court has a panel of three judges. Though it’s rare, the entire circuit court may consider certain appeals in a process called an “en banc hearing.” The Ninth Circuit has a different process for en banc than the rest of the circuits.

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Robinson v. Superintendent Rockview SCI

(United States Third Circuit) – In a suit alleging excessive force brought by an inmate in the custody of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, the District Court’s grant of summary judgement in favor of defendant is vacated where inmate’s attempts to avail himself of SCI Rockview’s administrative processes and the prison’s noncompliance with its own deadline satisfied the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – Criminal

Smith v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist.

(California Court of Appeal) – In a class action brought on behalf of all disabled students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, in which a sub-class of moderately to severely disabled children sought to intervene to challenge a new policy adopted by LAUSD in 2012 as part of a renegotiation of a settlement, which requires the most severely disabled students to go to the same schools as the district’s general, non-disabled student body, the district court’s denial of appellants’ motion to intervene is reversed where: 1) the district court abused its discretion in denying as untimely appellants’ motion to intervene as of right under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a); and 2) th district court further erred when it found intervention unnecessary to protect appellants’ interest in ensuring the receipt of public education consistent with their disabilities and federal law.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – Civil Procedure

Rollins v. Dignity Health

(United States Ninth Circuit) – In a putative class action against an employer, alleging it has not maintained its pension plan in compliance with the the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. section 1001 et seq., the District Court’s partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff is affirmed where pension plan was subject to the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and did not qualify for ERISA’s church-plan exemption.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – Class Action

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

(United States Supreme Court) – In a case challenging two provisions of Texas’ House Bill 2 (H.B. 2). the ‘admitting-privileges requirement’ and the ‘surgical-center requirement’, the Fifth Circuit reversal of the District Court’s decision, concluding that res judicata barred the District Court from holding the admitting-privileges requirement unconstitutional statewide and that res judicata also barred the challenge to the surgical-center provision, is reversed where: 1) petitioners’ constitutional claims are not barred by res judicata; and 2) both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – United States Supreme Court


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Microsoft Wins Appeal on Overseas Data Searches – New York Times

International Business Times UK
Microsoft Wins Appeal on Overseas Data Searches
New York Times
In the case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a lower court's ruling that Microsoft must turn over email communications for a suspect in a narcotics investigation stored in a Microsoft data center in Dublin. The case
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CNET –Washington Times – –Amlaw
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united states court of appeals – Google News