Lawsuit Terminology Guide
One of the most daunting aspects of being involved in a lawsuit—whether you’re on the prosecuting or defending end of it—is deciphering the technical language that makes up lawsuit terminology. To help, we’ve put together this glossary of some common courtroom phrasings. Learn more about each of the lawsuit terms below:
Contempt of Court
Contempt of court is a court order the judge issues when a party to the proceeding has failed to adhere to a previous order. When found in contempt, a party may receive heavy fines or more serious sanctions such as jail time.
Failure to State a Claim
Failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted is a defense often raised by the defendant. This defense is typically raised in the defendant’s answer and explains why the plaintiff does not have a proper claim to bring. In other words, the defendant will state how they properly complied with the terms of the agreement or contract and that bringing a lawsuit against the defendant is not justified. The Failure to State a Claim argument shall be discussed and brought forth in a Motion to Dismiss.
After the Court enters an order for judgment for the case, the losing party must follow and pay the order accordingly. When a party refuses to adhere to the order, the order may need to be enforced by the moving party. This can be a difficult process. First the moving party should file a Petition for Contempt with the Clerk of Court. The Clerk will also give detailed instructions for enforcing the court order upon the opposing party. The Clerk may ask you to fill out a financial affidavit at that time as well. After the Petition and Order should be taken to the Sheriff’s office where they will personally serve the opposing party. The Sheriff will then send a Return of Service to the moving party after this has been completed. This Return of Service shall be filed with the Clerk of Court and a court hearing will be set. At the hearing, the judge will enforce the order by entering a Writ of Garnishment to begin garnishing the party’s wages or other such means to acquire the money owed. If the opposing party fails to show, he or she may be found in Contempt of Court.
In the litigation process, once the complaint and answer have been filed and the lawsuit begins to develop, the next stage is the fact finding process known as Discovery. During Discovery, each party will file a series of requests with the opposing party known as interrogatories (asking the opposing party to answer questions), production (asking for documents to be produced), and admissions (asking the opposing party to admit or deny questions). The party must then respond to the Discovery in a given time period. If the party continually fails to answer such requests, a Motion to Compel may be filed with the Court asking the judge to make the party comply with the Discovery requests.
Litigation is bringing forth a claim from beginning to end through the form of a lawsuit. Litigation encompasses all legal paperwork filed at the court upon commencement of the lawsuit, negotiations between parties, the Discovery process, mediation and trial.
A plaintiff is a person, company, organization, or group of people who file a lawsuit. The plaintiff files a lawsuit because the defendant, or the other party defending the lawsuit, has failed to properly complete an agreement or contract. The plaintiff begins the lawsuit by filing a complaint with the proper court. Once the complaint is filed by the plaintiff, the defendant will file an answer responding to the plaintiff’s allegations.
Many court systems require that a case go before mediation before it can proceed with a trial. Mediation is a meeting with the parties and their attorneys to reach an amicable settlement in the case. Mediation sessions can be conducted with all parties in the same room, via teleconference or parties separated. A mediator, a third party to the case, will conduct the proceedings and encourage a compromise of the parties typically through a written or oral recommendation. Mediation can bring an adequate resolution to the case without the cost and long time frame associated with a trial.
Rules of Civil Procedure
Each state has its own rules of civil procedure that govern how the lawsuit process shall work procedurally. These rules lay out specifically what needs to be included from the beginning to the end of the litigation process. These rules determine what is necessary to file a complaint and summons, state specifically what defenses may be raised and when, as well as give time frames for bringing a claim. These rules can be very wordy and foreign; however, it is important to read them as they state exactly what each party to the lawsuit must do to properly bring and defend a claim.
A settlement is an amicable decision reached by both parties in the case. A settlement agreement can occur via negotiations with each party, or through a formal mediation session with a mediator. A settlement agreement is typically signed by each party stating that each party agrees to the terms decided. This will become binding by the court in lieu of a judgment. Settlements are often encouraged, as they put an end to the litigation and save money in comparison to an expensive trial.
Statute of Limitations
Statute of limitations is another defense often raised by the defendant in the answer if it is appropriate to do so. In order to bring a legal claim against another person or company, each state has enacted a specific time period from the time which an event occurs to that of when a person can file a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is brought after the time period has expired, the defendant can raise this issue in his answer and hopefully get the suit dismissed. It is important to check the appropriate state laws of civil procedure in order to determine whether the claim is brought forth in a timely manner.
After Discovery has been conducted and evidence in the case begins to develop and becomes apparent, any party may file a Motion for Summary Judgment. This motion is accompanied with a detailed memorandum which lists a summary of the evidence and facts of the case, and legal analysis as to why a decision in the case should be reached. This motion is brought forth before the case goes to trial. The judge will review the motion and determine whether the merits of the case and the evidence warrant a judgment without a trial. If the motion is denied, the case will continue in the litigation process.