The Court System

Litigation Process

There are basic procedures for filing a lawsuit. The litigation process includes statement of claim, statement of defense, discovery, and trial. In certain situations a decision may be appealable.

The first phase of the litigation process is pretrial. A lawsuit begins with the filing of a complaint—a pleading where the plaintiff (the party bringing the lawsuit) sets forth facts and claims against the defendant (the party being accused). The defendant typically responds with an answer, which may include replies to each allegation in the complaint plus affirmative defenses and counterclaims.

The defendant could also file a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's case. For federal courts, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) regulate procedures for civil legal suits within the U.S. Two options for motions to dismiss under FRCP 12(b) include that a defendant may argue that the court lacks jurisdiction (the power to hear the case) or a plaintiff failed to state an adequate claim. If the defendant fails to respond by the deadline under the applicable procedural rule, then the plaintiff can seek a default judgment, in which the court finds in favor of the plaintiff. Discovery lets the parties gather information relevant to the case by exchanging key documents, conducting depositions, and determining if any special privileges apply. For example, a defendant in a criminal case may ask for the identity of any witnesses that the government has gathered for the case. This allows the defendant to better prepare for their defense.

The trial is the second phase of the litigation process. The stages of a trial are jury selection, opening statements, the plaintiff's case, the defendant's case, closing arguments, and the verdict. Voir dire is the process in which potential jurors are questioned to determine whether they will give an unbiased opinion in the case.

An opening statement is when a party's attorney explains to the judge and jury the facts they intend to prove, the legal conclusions that the facts will support, and the conclusion that their client should win. After this, the plaintiff examines witnesses and presents evidence.

Next, the defendant may ask for a directed verdict, which is a request for the court to decide in a party's favor because the other party failed to prove their case. If the court refuses, the defendant would then present their evidence. At this point, the plaintiff can request a directed verdict before the case goes to the jury. If the court says no, then the trial proceeds to closing arguments, the judge reads the instructions to the jury, and the jury deliberates. When the jury reaches a verdict, the jurors return to the courtroom, and the verdict is read.

Posttrial is the third phase of the litigation process. After the verdict, the losing party can seek a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which is a request for the judge to overrule the jury's verdict for a particular reason. The losing party can seek a new trial on the basis that the evidence did not support the verdict. The losing party can also appeal. For instance, a defendant in a criminal case can file an appeal arguing that the evidence at trial was insufficient to uphold their conviction. The appeals process is a safeguard to ensure proper procedures were followed in the trial court.

Steps in Civil Litigation

The main stages of the litigation process include filing and responding to the complaint, discovery, negotiation or trial, and final judgment.