Every lawsuit needs a home. The filing party, the plaintiff, is necessarily afforded the first choice, given that the plaintiff needs to file the lawsuit somewhere. We may live in an increasingly virtual world but the lawsuit needs to be filed in a brick and mortar building (metaphorically speaking), in a place where humans still roam, although perhaps they will be replaced by robots someday. Yet there is a virtual element to the filing, since the federal courts, and many state courts, now accept only electronic filing. So while the lawsuit needs a physical home, it may not have a physical existence in that home. Perhaps the reader is already confused, and perhaps the writer is as well. Never can tell. For that matter, perhaps the building is already occupied by robots.
So the lawsuit is filed, and the responding party, the defendant, after being “served”, needs to file a response, usually within 20 or 30 days, depending upon the rules of the court where the lawsuit has been filed. The defendant may have other thoughts about the best place for the skirmish, especially if the defendant fears there might be a too much home cooking in the locale selected by the plaintiff.
Since this audience is presumably transportation oriented, we'll take that perspective. Specifically, we'll suppose that this is a loss and damage claim arising out of transportation cargo in interstate commerce. The statute provides the plaintiff, usually the shipper, with some choices. It should first be noted that on interline shipments, the shipper is not required to sort out which carrier caused the damage. The shipper can file against either the origin or destination carrier, subject to the discussion below. The carrier chosen by the shipper can then file what's called a third party complaint against the other carrier, a topic beyond the scope of this article.
If the shipper wishes to sue the delivering carrier, the shipper must file in a state, or federal judicial district, through which the carrier operates.
If the shipper wishes to sue the carrier which it believes is responsible for the damage, such as where there is no interlining and thus no choice of carrier to sue, the shipper needs to file where the damage is alleged to have occurred.
Although, as mentioned above, litigation between two carriers is outside the scope of this article, it should be noted that the statute says that that claim “may” be filed against the carrier alleged to have caused the damage in the district where the damage is alleged to have occurred. In a recent case, where the defendant carrier sued the other carrier by way of a third party complaint as mentioned above, the court held that by using “may” in the statute, the statute allows the court discretion to require the claim to be litigated in a place other than where the damage is alleged to have occurred.
Frequently, there is no written contract between the shipper and the carrier. Where there is such a contract, the contract usually designates a place of filing. In a recent case, where the shipper, in a household goods case, agreed to submit to venue in a specific location, the court held that the language of the contract did not exclude litigation in another court. That gets into the issue of drafting and interpretation of contracts, a whole separate topic.
Although there are always ifs, ands and buts, the foregoing discussion is offered to show some general considerations involved in figuring out where to file the complaint.