Merlin Law Group clients often have their insurance claim disputes settled with no lawsuit filed. Pre-litigation settlement is frequently in the client’s best interest. Sometimes, filing a lawsuit is the best alternative.
Even when filing suit in state court, insurance companies sometimes invoke their right to have the case heard by a federal court instead of a state court. There are a variety of reasons an insurance company might want to litigate in federal court. First, federal courts often have greater resources to move a case to completion. For example, most federal judges have a full staff of law clerks—lawyers that help the judge research legal issues, delve into the evidence, and draft opinions. Second, federal courts frequently decide cases without oral argument, relying solely on the litigant’s written work product. Third, the civil procedure rules in federal court are well-established, and lead to predictable results on important pretrial issues. Finally, some insurance defense lawyers may think that federal court gives them an advantage to win the case.
Just because the insurance company removed your case to federal court does not mean that the case is guaranteed to stay there. Insureds can seek to return their cases to state court when there are defects in the court’s ability to enter judgment under the Constitution, or if a procedural hurdle under federal law is not complied with by the insurance company. Of course, if the law requires the federal court to keep the case, there is little that can be done to send it back to state court.
Once in federal court, many policyholders are surprised to learn that two judges are often assigned to their cases. The first judge assigned to the case is the United States district judge. District judges have the authority to enter final judgment and possess the full power to make all decisions in a case. Usually, the federal district judge will preside over the trial, rule on evidentiary objections and pretrial motions, and determine the law that should apply.
The second judge assigned to the case is a federal magistrate judge. United States magistrate judges might help the federal district judges resolve pretrial motions, discovery issues, and other pretrial litigation matters. Unlike district judges, federal magistrate judges are not nominated by the president or confirmed by the senate, and do not have life tenure.
Many times, magistrate judges render their rulings in opinions called reports and recommendations. If a party believes that the federal magistrate judge got the decision wrong in the report and recommendation, the party can file an objection and have the federal district judge review the magistrate judge’s opinion. Also, if all parties consent, the magistrate judges can preside over civil cases and enter final judgment. Depending on the case, consenting to a federal magistrate’s jurisdiction might be an excellent choice for insureds, because it is sometimes easier to receive a position on the court’s trial calendar from a federal magistrate judge than a district judge.
Ian Dankelman graduated cum laude from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. While in law school, he was named to the National Order of the Barristers, served as a vice president of the moot court team, and earned the highest grades in Legal Research and Writing and Trial Practice. After law school, he gained valuable litigation and trial experience as an assistant state attorney. Before joining Merlin Law Group, he served from October 2016 to September 2018 as a law clerk for a United States District Judge in the Middle District of Florida.