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Which Laws Govern if Parties from Different States Litigate?

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Alexandria, VA 22311
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When a plaintiff from one state sues a defendant from another, a conflict of laws arises. The questions of which state’s courts will handle the case and which laws will apply often arise in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, which sees interaction among citizens of the District of Columbia, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The legal dynamic of multiple, intertwined jurisdictions within a set of occurrences that give rise to a case often creates issues that can be difficult to solve in a fair manner. In general, a set of rules has been created by historical interactions between state courts, as well as those between state and federal courts. These rules attempt to make the best decision with regard to fairness and the interests of the parties and states involved. These rules sometimes involve one court hearing a case but using the laws of another state, at least in part, to hand down a decision. Although complex, some basic principles in these rules apply to some common cases.

Jurisdiction of Court Hearing the Case

One case might have significant ties to several states. Before any court makes any decisions regarding which laws will govern a case, a court must decide that it has the proper jurisdiction to hear the case, itself. The domiciles of the parties, property, and locations of occurrences bear on this question of jurisdiction, as does the type of case.

If a court decides a case without sufficient grounds to do so, the decision might be ruled unenforceable by another court in another jurisdiction.

Once a case is decided, res judicata applies and the case is settled in finality. This principle establishes that any particular legal dispute cannot be heard in more than one court unless a higher court decides to hear the case on appeal.

Forum Shopping

Rules governing the question of venue have been established to prevent forum shopping. This practice involves the selection from all possible choices of venue by the plaintiff to take advantage of the one with laws most amenable to the case. The unfettered choice by plaintiffs regarding which state will hear a case has led to unfair results and has given rise to rules that now serve to determine the forum.

Diversity of Citizenship

If each and every party who is a plaintiff in a case is the resident of a different state than each and every party who is a defendant, that case will one of Diversity of Citizenship and shall be the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. This rule was established, in part, by responding to the difficulty that could be faced by defendants such as a California resident being hailed into a Maine courtroom.


For litigation involving land or real property, the situs rule establishes that the jurisdiction encompassing the property will hear the case and apply its own laws. The rationale is simple: the state in which the property is located has the greatest interest in how that property should be treated.

Personal Injury and Other Claims in Tort

For cases involving harm caused by one party to another, the jurisdiction encompassing the scene of the harm will usually serve as the venue of the litigation and will usually use most of its own laws to govern such cases. The idea here again is a straightforward one. When a citizen enters a territory, that citizen is subject to the local rules and customs of that territory and should act accordingly.
If you have a legal cause of action and have questions regarding which jurisdiction will handle the case and which laws will apply, contact the attorneys at The Kamerow Law Firm, PLLC for a free and confidential initial consultation by calling 703-370-8088.