The Pleading Phase of Litigation Explained
The Pleading Phase is the first phase of a litigation case. To initiate a lawsuit, the Plaintiff files a document called a "complaint," which lays out, in numbered paragraphs, factual allegations the Plaintiff is making against the defendant. The complaint would entitle the plaintiff to judgment from the court, and requests monetary or injunctive relief from the court if it is found in their favor.
The plaintiff will have the complaint served to the defendant through a sheriff, a special process server, or certified mail requiring the defendant's signature. The complaint comes with a summons requiring the defendant or their attorney to appear in court at the first court date, called the "Return Date."
The defendant will have 30 days from being served with the complaint to respond by filing either an Answer to the Complaint or a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.
If the defendant files a Motion to Dismiss, they may feel there is some defect with the complaint that makes the case improper, or it should be dismissed. When the motion is successful, the case is usually dismissed without prejudice and the plaintiff will typically be granted 30 days to file an amended complaint correcting the defects. If the court finds the defects can't be corrected by Amending the Complaint, the case will be dismissed with prejudice and cannot be refiled, but can be appealed.
If the Motion to Dismiss is unsuccessful, the defendant will be granted time to file an Answer to The Complaint. The defendant will admit or deny each of the allegations listed in the complaint and plead any defenses that may defeat the claims made in the Complaint even if such claims are true. Once the defendant has filed an Answer to the Complaint, the case is "at issue" and the Written Discovery Phase of litigation begins.
The phases in a litigation case include:
- The Pleading Phase;
- The Written Discovery Phase;
- The Oral Discovery Phase;
- Pre-Trial Motions and Settlement Efforts;
- Trial; and
Click here to read an article by our Lisle litigation lawyers about Motions to Dismiss in Civil Litigation.