On December 23, 2013 the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 2012 verdict against the Miss. Department of Health. The case involved Albert Brown’s claim that he was passed over for a promotion in retaliation for filing a racial discrimination lawsuit.
Here is the 5th Circuit’s per curiam opinion: Brown v. Dept of Health – 5th Cir Opinion.
The original jury verdict was for $425,000. In post-trial motions, the district court reduced that amount to $210,000, but added $75,000 in back pay, $100,000 in front pay and $55,079 in attorney’s fees. The total amount that the 5th Circuit affirmed was $440,079.75.
District Judge Carlton Reeves presided in the case. Louis Watson, Jr. and Nick Norris with Watson & Norris, PLLC represented the plaintiff.
This case is an example of why some plaintiff lawyers in Mississippi prefer federal court. The argument goes something like this.
In federal court your case will get to trial faster than in state court. If you win, the appeal will be decided faster in federal court. Also, the verdict is more likely to be affirmed on appeal than in state court. If you lose, at least it will be fast.
Here, 18 months after the verdict the 5th Circuit affirmed in a two page per curiam opinion that concludes that that there is no reversible error. Proponents of the federal court route would argue that the Mississippi appeals courts would never summarily affirm a mid-six figure plaintiff verdict.
State court proponents argue that federal court juries are more conservative than the general population than their state court counterparts. Some lawyers also believe that expert witness rules are more relaxed in state court. Experts may also be a little less expensive in state court because federal court rules require the experts to draft their opinions. In state court, expert opinions are disclosed in designations drafted by the attorneys.
My personal opinion on expert witnesses is that overall, there is no difference in state court and federal court. There may be a few practical differences, but the underlying law is similar and the differences even out in the long run.
Personally, I go back and forth on the federal court vs. state court debate. I understand the argument made by the federal court proponents. I have filed cases in federal court that I could have filed in state court. If my state court venue would place me in front of a judge who doesn’t set cases for trial until discovery is concluded, then I file in federal court when I can. Otherwise, it depends.
It’s an interesting debate. The best short answer is probably: “it depends.”