Most claims the average citizen will bring will be brought in the state courts. Examples of cases routinely brought in state court are personal injury cases, small claims cases, breach of contract cases, divorce cases and cases involving violations of state consumer laws.
Bankruptcy is an exception. The United States Bankruptcy Court has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcies, and this is a federal court.
There are primarily two ways to file a lawsuit in federal court: federal question cases and diversity of parties cases. Anytime you are suing pursuant to a federal law you are asking the court to decide a “federal question” and you may choose to file in federal court. For example, an injured seaman may choose to file in federal court under the Jones Act, a law governing injuries to workers on vessels. In the consumer law context, a person may bring claims in federal court under any of several federal consumer rights laws such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
You may also file a claim in federal court that would normally be a state claim, such as negligence or breach of contract, if there is “complete diversity of parties,” and if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Diversity of parties means that the parties reside in or are based in different states. For example, an Oregon resident could sue a Washington resident in federal court for injuries incurred in a car accident if the plaintiff alleges damages greater than $75,000.
In general it is believed that federal courts favor defendants. In addition, because of the different ways courts fill their jury pools, the federal court in Oregon tends to have more white jurors whereas in state court, at least in Multnomah County, there are more non-white jurors. Your attorney will help you decide which jurisdiction, federal or state, is most advantageous to you and your case.