AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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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

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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...

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