Can a State or Federal court in the U.S. be a party in a civil lawsuit? I mean lawsuits completely unrelated to cases heard or adjudicated by the court, such as:

  • A suit filed by a fired employee (e.g. a court stenographer),
  • A suit filed by a utility company for late payments for electricity,
  • A suit against a postal service that failed to deliver and lost court documents, etc.

Is yes, then what courts have jurisdiction over such cases? Are there any special rules for such cases?

  • In all of your cases, it is not the court as the plaintiff/defendant, but the Government as the Judiciary is a part of the Government Jul 29, 2016 at 4:27
  • But are there any special rules for the jurisdiction to avoid conflict of interest? Jul 29, 2016 at 4:33
  • The rules prohibit a conflict of interest, so a judge with no previous involvement in the case would preside. Statistically, a lawsuit suing a court is frivolous.
    – Viktor
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:26
  • Courts are frequently sued in the U.S. and can be a party like any other entity can. Jul 29, 2016 at 16:08
  • @user3344003 Examples? Aren't all such cases dismissed? Jul 29, 2016 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


A court can neither sue nor be sued as it is not a legal person.

The state (read government) can be (subject to sovereign immunity) in its administrative arm (i.e. not the judicial or legislative branches).

For your particular examples:

A suit filed by a fired employee (e.g. a court stenographer),

the court has no employees. Court stenographers et al are employed by the administrative branch - the person who gets sued is the Secretary of State for the Justice Department (or whatever they are called).

A suit filed by a utility company for late payments for electricity,

Utility companies are not the government even if 100% government owned (most are privately owned anyway) - companies are their own legal person.

A suit against a postal service that failed to deliver and lost court documents, etc.

I do not know what the legal status of the US Postal Service is - it is either part of a government department ora government owned corporation - see above.

The court is impartial because it is constitutionally required to be - it doesn't care who the plaintiff or defendant are.

  • The U.S. Postal Service is currently operated as a government owned corporation that is regulated much like a utility, but it still have residual vestiges of governmental power (e.g. a formal role in processing many passport applications and an in house law enforcement agency of postal inspectors that investigates crimes utilizing the postal system). The status of court employees varies jurors are sometimes treated as state employees and in some mostly small rural courts, court employees are personal employees of the judge rather than civil servants.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 23, 2016 at 4:27
  • A comment years later: I'm pretty sure the point of the utility example was not about the government status of the utility -- the point was whether a court could be sued over its electricity bill. Likewise, the government status of the postal service was not the point -- it could equally be a private service like FedEx -- it was about whether a court could sue for mishandled deliveries of its documents. All of OP's examples were illustrative of disputes that could involve a court not as a court but as an entity with commercial relations.
    – nanoman
    Nov 23, 2022 at 4:11

As an aside, it isn't uncommon to see case captions, especially in older cases, that are captioned, for example, "Jones v. District Court".

These lawsuits involve something of a legal fiction and usually involve what used to be known as "mandamus actions". In this context, a mandamus action is a form of appeal to a higher court with appellate or supervisory jurisdiction over the court sued seeking review of a court order before the entire case is finally decided on the merits (also known as an interlocutory appeal).

For example, a mandamus action might be brought by a party to a lawsuit seeking to prevent the disclosure of documents covered by the attorney-client privilege when the court orders the documents to be disclosed.

The modern trend is to formally treat these interlocutory appeals as a form of appeal rather than as a form of lawsuit against the court. In Colorado, for example, these are now known as Rule 21 actions in civil lawsuits, after Colorado Appellate Rule 21 that authorizes these appeals.

These suits are always brought against the court in an official capacity for non-monetary relief and the nominal court defendant is never liable for damages or litigation costs or usually even for filing legal documents in the case other than the lower court record related to the dispute.

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