an imageAll states provide by constitution or legislation for one court of ultimate review or last resort, in most states the Supreme Court, in some the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court of Appeals. Courts of last resort hear appeals from lower state appellate or trial courts. They have ultimate jurisdiction over interpretation of the state constitution and state law.

Intermediate state courts of appeals exercise appellate jurisdiction but may have special original jurisdiction. There is permissive or discretionary review of their decisions by the highest state courts.

Trial courts have general jurisdiction over civil, criminal, equity, family, and probate cases. State courts may have separate civil and criminal and family divisions and separate probate or surrogate courts.

Courts of limited or special jurisdiction handle petty civil and criminal matters. These are the small claims, traffic, special family, or juvenile courts. There may be overlapping or concurrent jurisdiction between courts of limited jurisdiction and state trial courts of general jurisdiction.


Federal and state court jurisdictions may be concurrent in some cases. As a general rule, federal courts do not hear cases under state laws and vice-versa; however, each may hear cases on matters generally falling within the purview of the other. The rules of stare decisis governing both binding and merely persuasive judicial precedents apply within both federal and state court systems and become complex when state courts apply and enforce federal laws or when federal courts apply and enforce laws of the states.

For legal research it is important to understand that there may be relevant decisions on any issue in both state and federal court systems. For example, even though family matters or domestic relations law are primarily under state laws, there may be relevant cases decided in the federal courts.