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A cross-complaint, also called “crossclaim,” is an independent action brought by a party against a co-party, the original plaintiff, or someone who is not yet a party to the lawsuit. The cross-complaint must arise out of the same transaction or occurrence of plaintiff’s claim against the defendant. For example, if a plaintiff-pedestrian sues a defendant-owner-of-the-car and defendant-driver for a car accident, the defendant-owner can file a cross-complaint against the defendant-driver.

That said, different jurisdictions can define a cross-complaint differently.

For instance, in Rule 13 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), crossclaim is defined narrowly. The rule differentiates counterclaims and crossclaims:

  • While they are both independent actions, a counterclaim is only brought by the defendant against the plaintiff.
  • Crossclaims can be brought by the defendant against a co-party or by a plaintiff against a co-party. 
  • There is no compulsory crossclaim in the FRCP.

In California, where counterclaims are abolished, a cross-complaint is defined broadly.  A defendant can file a cross-complaint against a plaintiff, a co-party, or a non-party if the cross-complaint arises out of the same transaction (See California Code of Civil Procedure 428.10). There are compulsory cross-complaints and permissive cross-complaints in California.

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]