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Pleading is the beginning stage of a lawsuit in which parties formally submit their claims and defenses.


The plaintiff submits a complaint stating the cause of action. The defendant submits an answer stating his or her defenses and denials. The defendant may also submit a counterclaim stating a cause of action against the plaintiff.


Pleadings provide notice to the defendant that a lawsuit has been instituted concerning a specific controversy or controversies. It also provides notice to the plaintiff of the defendant's intentions with regard to the suit.

Procedural Rules

Pleadings are part of a larger category of procedural rules. In state court, pleadings are generally governed by state procedural rules (for example, see Chapter 7 of California's Code of Civil Procedure. In federal court, pleadings are generally governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, particularly by Rules 7-16. 

Further Reading

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

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U.S. Constitution

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Category: Courts and Procedure