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A lawsuit brought to enforce, redress, or protect rights of private litigants—the plaintiffs and the defendants—not a criminal proceeding.
Today, courts in the United States generally are not divided into common-law courts and Equity courts because most states and the federal government have merged the procedures for law and equity into one system. Now all kinds of lawsuits are simply called civil actions without the former distinctions of procedure in law or in equity.
A criminal proceeding is called a penal action to distinguish it from civil actions.
n. any lawsuit relating to civil matters and not criminal prosecution. (See: lawsuit)
CIVIL ACTION. In New York, actions are divided only into two kinds, namely, criminal and civil. A criminal action is prosecuted by the state, as a party, against a person charged with a public offence, for the punishment thereof. Every other action is a civil action. Code of Procedure, s. 4, 5, 6; 3 Bouv. Inst. n. 2638. In common parlance, however, writs of mandamus, certiorari, habeas corpus, &c., are not comprised by the expression, civil actions. 6 Bin. Rep. 9.