The federal court system has three main levels: district courts (the trial court), circuit courts which are the first level of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the United States, the final level of appeal in the federal system. There are 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and one Supreme Court throughout the United States.
Federal Appellate Courts:
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the American judicial system and has the power to decide appeals on all cases brought in federal court or those brought in state court but dealing with federal law. For example, if a First Amendment freedom of speech case was decided by the highest court of a state (usually the state supreme court), the case could be appealed to the federal Supreme Court. However, if that same case were decided entirely on a state law similar to the First Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States would not be able to consider the case. In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court.
Courts of Appeal also known as Circuit Courts
There are 13 appellate courts that sit below the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are called the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury. A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
The nation’s 94 district or trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right. The district courts are the general trial courts of the federal court system.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court. Four territories of the United States have U.S. district courts that hear federal cases, including bankruptcy cases: Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Through the bankruptcy process, individuals or businesses that can no longer pay their creditors may either seek a court-supervised liquidation of their assets, or they may reorganize their financial affairs and work out a plan to pay their debts.
Florida is divided into three judicial districts that are referred to as the Southern, Northern, and Middle Districts of Florida.
Southern District of Florida:
The Southern District comprises the counties of Broward, Dade, Highlands, Indian River, Martin, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie. Court for the Southern District is held in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Key West, and West Palm Beach.
Northern District of Florida:
The Northern District comprises the counties of Alachua, Bay, Calhoun, Dixie, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Taylor, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington. Court for the Northern District is held in Tallahassee, Gainesville, Marianna, Panama City and Pensacola.
Middle District of Florida:
The Middle District comprises the counties of Baker, Bradford, Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, De Soto, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hamilton, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, St. Johns, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter, Suwannee, Union, and Volusia. Court for the Middle District is held in Tampa, Fernandina, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Live Oak, Ocala, Orlando and St. Petersburg.