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A brief guide to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure -- pretrial

Since Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks, Inc. is being heard in federal court (the District Court for the Central District of California), the procedural rules of the case are set by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which are approved by the United States Supreme Court.

Pleadings generally

The formal written statements submitted at the opening of the trial are called the pleadings. The plaintiff first submits a complaint, then the defendant submits its answer.

The English common law and early American law contained highly technical pleading requirements, which frequently resulted in parties losing otherwise good cases for failing to meet the complicated requirements of form. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are written so as to encourage "simplified pleadings." That is, the Rules are written as much as possible to avoid a party losing his or her case because of obscure technicalities in the pleading laws. (There was a long tradition in the English common law of highly technical pleading requirements.)

The rules for pleading, and the concept of simplified pleadings, are set out in Section III of the Federal Rules.

The complaint

Rule 3 states that a civil case is started when the plaintiff files a complaint with the district court. The contents of the complaint are regulated by Rule 8(a), which requires: According to the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all citizens have the right to a trial before a jury. Rule 38 preserves this right, and sets out the procedure by which a party may demand a trial by jury. In this case, Ms. Chase-Riboud has demanded a jury trial in her complaint.

The answer

The defendant's first response to the complaint is a, appropriately enough, called the answer. The format and form of the answer is set out in Rule 8(b). It requires a short and plain statement of the defendant's answers to each claim asserted. The defendant must admit or deny the plaintiff's claims, or state that (s)he does not have enough information to admit or deny.

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