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Asking a court to grant relief. The formal presentation of claims and defenses by parties to a lawsuit. The specific papers by which the allegations of parties to a lawsuit are presented in proper form; specifically the complaint of a plaintiff and the answer of a defendant plus any additional responses to those papers that are authorized by law.

Different systems of pleading have been organized generally to serve four functions: (1) to give notice of the claim or defense; (2) to reveal the facts of the case; (3) to formulate the issues that have to be resolved; and (4) to screen the flow of cases into a particular court. Different systems may rely on the pleadings to accomplish these purposes or may use the pleadings along with other procedural devices, such as discovery, Pretrial Conference among the parties, or Summary Judgment.

Originally in ancient England, the parties simply presented themselves to a tribunal and explained their dispute. This worked well enough in the local courts and in the feudal courts where a lord heard cases involving his tenants, but the great common-law courts of the king demanded more formality. From the end of the fourteenth to the middle of the sixteenth century, the royal courts began more and more to demand written pleadings that set out a party's position in a case. Predictably the shift resulted in more formality and more rigid technical requirements that were difficult to satisfy. Thus the course of Common-Law Pleading was perilous. A claim or defense that did not exactly fit the requirements of the common-law Forms of Action was thrown out with no opportunity to amend it and come back into court.

Some relief was offered by the courts of Equity, which were not bound by the same complex system of pleading. Beginning in the fourteenth century, the authority of such courts increased in proportion to the rigidity of the common-law pleading. Equity was the conscience of the judicial system and was charged with doing complete justice regardless of technicalities. Cases were tried before a single judge without a jury, and the judge could allow different claims and various parties all in one proceeding. Some pretrial discovery of the other party's evidence was permitted. The initial pleading by a petitioner in equity was the bill, but states that now have the same procedures for law and equity specify the complaint as the first pleading in all kinds of civil actions today.

Despite criticism, common-law pleading endured in England and in the United States for several centuries. Beginning in 1848, some states replaced it by law with a new system called Code Pleading. The statutes enacting code pleading abolished the old forms of action and set out a procedure that required the plaintiff simply to state in a complaint facts that warranted legal relief. A defendant was authorized to resist the plaintiff's demand by denying the truth of the facts in the complaint or by stating new facts that defeated them. The defendant's response is called an answer.

In 1938, federal courts began using a modern system of pleading set out in the federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This system has been so effective that many states have enacted substantially the same rules of pleading. A pleading by a plaintiff or defendant under these rules is intended simply to give the other party adequate notice of the claim or defense. This notice must give the adversary enough information so that she can determine the evidence that she wants to uncover during pretrial discovery and then adequately prepare for trial. Because of this under-lying purpose, modern federal pleading is also called notice pleading. The other objectives of earlier kinds of pleading are accomplished by different procedural devices provided for in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


Civil Procedure.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. 1) every legal document filed in a lawsuit, petition, motion and/or hearing, including complaint, petition, answer, demurrer, motion, declaration, and memorandum of points and authorities (written argument citing precedents and statutes). Laypersons should be aware that, except possibly for petitions from prisoners, pleadings are required by state or federal statutes and/or court rules to be of a particular form and format: typed, signed, dated, with the name of the court, title and number of the case, name, address and telephone number of the attorney or person acting for himself/herself (in pro per) included. 2) the act of preparing and presenting legal documents and arguments. Good pleading is an art: clear, logical, well-organized, comprehensive, and including all essential facts. (See: plea, plead, complaint, answer, demurrer)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

PLEADING, practice. The statement in a logical, and legal form, of the facts which constitute the plaintiff's cause of action, or the defendant's ground of defence; it is the formal mode of alleging that on the record, which would be the support, or the defence of the party in evidence. 8 T. R. 159; Dougl. 278; Com. Dig. Pleader, A; Bac. Abr. Pleas and Pleading; Cowp. 682-3. Or in the language of Lord Coke, good pleading consists in good matter pleaded in good form, in apt time, and due order. Co. Lit. 303. In a general sense, it is that which either party to a suit at law alleges for himself in a court, with respect to the subject-matter of the cause, and the mode in which it is carried on, including the demand which is made by the plaintiff; but in strictness, it is no more than setting forth those facts or arguments which show the justice or legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's demand, and the defendant's defence, without including the statement of the demand itself, which is contained in the declaration or count. Bac. Abr. Pleas and Pleading.
     2. The science of pleading was designed only to render the facts of each party's case plain and intelligible, and to bring the matter in dispute between them to judgment. Steph. Pl. 1. It is, as has been well observed, admirably calculated for analyzing a cause, and extracting, like the roots of an equation, the true points in dispute; and referring them with all imaginable simplicity, to the court and jury. 1 Hale's C. L. 301, n
     3. The parts of pleading have been considered as arrangeable under two heads; first, the regular, or those which occur, in the ordinary course of a suit; and secondly, the irregular, or collateral, being those which are occasioned by mistakes in the pleadings on either side.
     4. The regular parts are, 1st. The declaration or count. 2d. The plea, which is either to the jurisdiction of the court, or suspending the action, a's in the case of a parol demurrer, or in abatement, or in bar of the action, or in replevin, an avowry or cognizance. 3d. The replication, and, in case of an evasive plea, a new assignment, or in replevin the plea in bar to the avowry or cognizance. 4th. The rejoinder, or, in replevin, the replication to the plea in bar. 5th. The sur-rejoinder, being in replevin, the rejoinder. 6th. The rebutter. 7th. The sur-rebutter. Vin. Abr. Pleas and Pleading, C; Bac. Abr. Pleas and Pleadings, A. 8th. Pleas puis darrein continuance, when the matter of defence arises pending the suit.
     6. The irregular or collateral parts of Pleading are stated to be, 1st. Demurrers to any art of the pleadings above mentioned. 2dly. Demurrers to evidence given at trials. 3dly. Bills of exceptions. 4thly. Pleas in scire facias. And, 5thly. Pleas in error. Vin. Abr. Pleas and Pleadings, C.; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.

PLEADING, SPECIAL. By special pleading is meant the allegation of special or new matter, as distinguished from a direct denial of matter previously alleged on the opposite side. Gould on Pl. c. 1, s. 18.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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