forum shopping

Primary tabs

Forum shopping refers to the practice of pursuing a claim subject to concurrent jurisdiction in the court that will treat the claim most favorably. Forum shopping can occur between courts in different states, between federal and state courts in the same state, or between courts in separate countries. While forum shopping is still permitted under limited circumstances, the practice is generally discouraged in the modern legal system due to the Erie Doctrine and other conflict of law rules. 

Under the Erie Doctrine, which was explicitly adopted to reduce forum shopping, a federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction must apply the substantive law of the state in which it is sitting. As a result, a plaintiff cannot use forum shopping between federal court and state court within the same state to choose which laws will govern the merits of their claim. Additionally, the court’s ability to decline to exercise their jurisdiction through the power of forum non conveniens prevents plaintiffs from using forum shopping to burden the defendant by choosing to sue in highly inconvenient jurisdiction.  

Nonetheless, even with the Erie Doctrine and other restrictive measures in place, a plaintiff may still find it beneficial to engage in forum shopping. For example, a plaintiff suing a large corporate defendant might choose to sue in state court rather than federal court because they believe that a local jury will be more sympathetic to their argument than a federal jury. Alternatively, a plaintiff might prefer one jurisdiction over another due to a quirk of its procedural rules or due to its conflict of law rules. 

Sometimes, plaintiffs deliberately structure their state law claims against out-of-state defendants to prevent the out-of-state defendants from removing the case to federal court, which might otherwise have diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For example, a plaintiff suing a major retailer might sue both the national parent company and its local store. By joining the in-state defendant, the plaintiff prevents federal courts from exercising diversity jurisdiction over the case for lack of complete diversity.

[Last updated in December of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]