If a plaintiff brings a civil suit against another party (aka say the
Gorilla glue hair suit), what role does the court play in whether to
permit a trial, how has that role changed over the decades, and are
there large inconsistencies between federal judicial districts?
Federal, as I believe this type of suit would be brought there.
I understand and know that a suit can be thrown out, but how far can a
court judge a case before trial? And do lawyers pick certain courts
where they believe their odds are better?
In the Gorilla Glue case that possible plaintiff resides and the injury occurred in Louisiana. The Gorilla Glue Company is based in Ohio.
There are two basic plausible claims: a product liability claim against the manufacturer, and a breach of warranty claim against whomever sold the good to the customer. If sued, the immediate retail seller could bring in the person who sold it to them (perhaps a wholesaler) who could in turn bring in the person who sold it to them (perhaps a manufacturer), in a chain of breach of warranty claims.
Depending upon the facts, one or the other defendant may have deeper pockets, and the elements of the legal claim for breach of warranty and for products liability aren't precisely the same. Neither claim requires a showing of true negligence on the part of a defendant, just a showing that the product was defective or that there was a failure to warn. But that doesn't mean that establishing liability is easier in either case either.
Also, while the plaintiff's claims wouldn't be negligence claims, the concept of "comparative fault" under Louisiana or Ohio law (a choice of law question for the trial court to decide as to particular issues) means that sufficient negligence of a plaintiff could overcome the suit as well. Usually though, negligence issues are reserved for a jury and not something for a judge to decide.
This case there would be two possible state court forums:
The state court of general jurisdiction where the injury occurred which is in Louisiana.
The state court of general jurisdiction where the defendant is located, which is in Hamilton County, Ohio.
Since the plaintiff and Gorilla Glue maker defendant are from different states, if they are the only defendants, the suit could also be brought in federal court in either location in the first place, or could be removed to federal court from whichever state court it is brought in (assuming that the Louisiana court has jurisdiction over the Gorilla Glue maker, which it probably would but isn't entirely certain).
However, the store in Louisiana that sold the product could also be sued for breach of warranty, and if that was done in a Louisiana state court, the case could not be removed to federal court by the Ohio based defendant since there is not "complete diversity of citizenship" and the Plaintiff's case do not arise under federal law.
Bringing the case in Louisiana would be more convenient for the plaintiff. But procedural and substantive law issues factor into choice of forum for the plaintiff as well. Louisiana under the the Louisiana
As explained by @bdb484 there are two stages at which a case might be thrown out by a judge prior to trial (and more than 90% of cases settle prior to trial). One is a motion to dismiss, governed by Rule 12 in federal court, and the other is a motion for summary judgment, governed by Rule 56 in federal court.
The standard for a motion for summary judgment is essentially the same in state and federal court. If a defendant can show by affidavit in a motion brought after some opportunity for pre-trial compulsory exchange of documents and depositions that the facts necessary for that defendant to win under the law are present, and the other side can't present sworn evidence or authenticated documents contradicting that argument, then the case against that defendant is dismissed. But the facts that are established must be viewed in a light most favorable to the party defending the motion for summary judgment.
The earlier stage, a motion to dismiss under Rule 12 in federal practice, shows more variation between state and federal practice.
A motion to dismiss is a "so what?" motion. If everything said in the complaint is true, does the defendant still win (jurisdiction can also be disputed at this stage). But the standard in federal court under a fairly recently announced standard known as Twombly changing a long standing interpretation of Rule 12, is that a case can be dismissed if the complaint doesn't state a "plausible claim for relief" based upon the non-conclusory facts of the complaint asserted to be true and not merely speculated to be true based upon "information and belief". As this law review article explains:
Conley v. Gibson, decided in 1957, required only that the complaint
allege facts that could conceivably support a claim for relief—a
lenient notice-pleading standard that allowed marginal lawsuits to
survive to later stages of litigation in the hope that
later-discovered facts would salvage the claim (355 U.S. 41 (1957)). A
half century later, in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, the Court announced a more demanding approach—plausibility
pleading—which requires the plaintiff to allege facts that give rise
to a plausible entitlement to relief (550 U.S. 544 (2007); 556 U.S.
Since a Rule 12 motion is decided before the parties engage in the mandatory exchange of documents and depositions of witnesses prior to trial called discovery, the plaintiff often lacks inside information that the other party has which is damaging to their case and which the plaintiff can't get without discovery or a mole in the other side's organization. This is a big deal in a product liability case where internal memos might show an awareness of a risk of a problem like the one that happened.
For decades prior to the Twombly case, a motion to dismiss would be granted only if it was impossible that the someone could win the case if the allegations of the Complaint were true, even if some of those facts were based upon guesswork of things that might be true.
Some states retain the older standard, or some other standard entirely, or have ways that a plaintiff can compel information from the other side prior to filing suit.
Ohio's state courts use the old and more lenient motion to dismiss standard, which makes the Ohio state court potentially an attractive forum if it could be secured. But it would be harder to avoid diversity of citizenship in Ohio so it would probably be able to remove the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and 28 U.S.C. § 1441, even though if it was an Ohio company sued in Ohio state court. This is because the Ohio court wouldn't have jurisdiction over a retail vender of the product. (Another way to avoid diversity of citizenship jurisdiction and federal court would be to limit the dollar amount of the claim to under $75,000.)
Procedurally Louisiana with roots in French rather than English law as a foundation, but influenced by contract with other U.S. states for a couple of centuries, has the most divergent civil procedure rules in the U.S., so it is hard for me as a non-Louisiana lawyer, to evaluate the procedural issues in that forum.