Primary tabs

Pleading is one of the first stages of a lawsuit. In a pleading, the parties formally submit their claims and the defenses against the opposition’s claims. The parties can make specific pleas, such as a guilty plea or a not guilty plea. Pleadings usually do not include evidence for and against the claims, which are presented later in the lawsuit. Generally, the plaintiff submits a complaint, which states the cause of action. Then, the defendant submits the answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, asserting their defenses and possible denials. Also, if the defendant has a counterclaim against the plaintiff’s cause of action, then the defendant submits the counterclaim during the pleading. There could be possible further pleadings after the initial pleadings of both parties, including a reply, a rejoinder, or a surrejoinder.

The pleading serves to provide notice to the defendant that there will be a lawsuit against the defendant regarding a specific controversy or controversies. Furthermore, the pleading stage provides notice to both parties of the intention of the opposing party regarding the lawsuit. Here are some examples of typical pre-trial pleadings:

  • Complaint: also known as a petition or a bill, sets out the plaintiff’s perspective on the facts and injuries due to the controversy. The plaintiff explains the issues of the lawsuit, including the cause of action and the factual and legal basis for the case
  • Answer: the defendant’s response to the plaintiff’s allegations and the defenses or excuses against the plaintiff’s claims
  • Reply: if there are new allegations within the pleading stages, the opposing party may file to respond to the new allegations by filing a reply
  • Counterclaim: the defendant could file a counterclaim, which indicates that the defendant alleges that the plaintiff here is in the wrong, requiring to compensate the defendant instead. The defendant could file the counterclaim separately or as a part of the answer. The plaintiff is allowed to respond to the counterclaim by filing a reply to the counterclaim

Pleadings usually are presented via a written delivery of the parties. Pleadings may include briefs, attachments, responses and motions. State procedural rules (for instance, see Chapter 7 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure) govern the pleading stages within state courts. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (see Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 7-16) govern the pleading stages within the federal courts.

For more on pleading, see this New York University Law Review article, this Stanford Law Review article, and this Vanderbilt Law Review article.

[Last updated in February of 2024 by the Wex Definitions Team]

menu of sources

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution

Federal Rules

State Material

State Court Rules

State Judicial Decisions

Other References

Useful Offnet (or Subscription - $) Sources

other topics

Category: Courts and Procedure