Civ Pro 1.2 – What Are Pleadings?
You woke up two hours early this morning to research Title VII race discrimination claims. The first thing you learned was that before Sarah can sue Goliath Corp., she will have to visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws.
The process is simple: An employee files a "charge" with the EEOC that briefly explains her claims, and the EEOC gives the employer a chance to respond. Then, the EEOC decides whether it wants to sue on the employee's behalf. In most cases, the EEOC does not handle these cases itself, so it issues a "right to sue" letter to the employee. This set of stepsーfrom filing an EEOC charge to getting a right to sue letterーis called "exhausting administrative remedies." (You would have learned more about agencies like the EEOC if you had signed up for that Administrative Law course!)
When you call Sarah to break the news, you find out she's way ahead of you. She's already been through the EEOC process and received her "right to sue" letter. So now it’s really up to you to get this lawsuit started. What do you do next?
Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure gives you the short answer: “A civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court.” A complaint is an example of a pleading, a category of documents the parties use to stake out (or plead) their positions in a lawsuit. Rule 7 lists all of the other types of pleadings allowed in federal courts:
- an answer to a complaint;
- an answer to a counterclaim;
- an answer to a crossclaim;
- a third-party complaint;
- an answer to a third-party complaint; and
- if the court orders one, a reply to an answer.
We'll encounter some of these other pleadings in later lessons.
You also find some guidance about what your pleadings should look like when you turn to Rule 10. Every pleading has to have a caption at the top that lists the parties' names, the court's name, the file number the court assigned to your case, and the type of pleading (complaint, answer, etc.) you are filing. All pleadings should state the party's claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs and address only "a single set of circumstances" in each paragraph. In practice, parties interpret "a single set of circumstances" to mean that each paragraph should contain only a few facts about a particular event. A paragraph can contain multiple sentences, as long as all of them are closely connected. The short-paragraph structure comes in handy later in a case when the parties refer to each other's pleadings in answers, motions, and briefs. In addition, parties can attach exhibits that then become part of a pleading. For instance, in a contract dispute, the plaintiff may want to attach the contract to the complaint so the important provisions become part of the court record.
Now that you have a better sense of what a pleading is and what form your complaint should take, it's time to find out what Sarah needs to plead to state her race discrimination claims.
After some preliminary research into Title VII race discrimination claims, you find out that the first thing Sarah has to do before she can sue Goliath Corp. is that she has to visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC). That’s the federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws. It’s a straightforward process. The employee (in our case, Sarah) files a charge with the EEOC that briefly explains what’s going on. And the EEOC will give the employer (Goliath Corp., in this instance) an opportunity to respond.
And then, the EEOC will decide whether it wants to sue Goliath Corp. on Sarah’s behalf. Now, in most cases, the EEOC won’t handle the case itself. Instead, it’ll just tell Sarah, or whoever the employee happens to be, that they have a right to sue. And that will be issued in the form of a letter. But this is something you have to do–the set of steps–filing an EEOC charge, to getting the letter to sue.
This is called exhausting your administrative remedies. Now, if you’ve taken an administrative law class, this will be something you will be very familiar with. So, you call Sarah to tell her the news. But you find out that she’s already way ahead of you. She’s already been through the process and got her right to sue letter from the EEOC. Now what?
Well, we turn to our Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, Rule 3 says, “A civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court.” Now what’s a complaint? Well, a complaint is an example of a pleading. There are lots of different types of pleadings allowed in federal courts, and Rule 7 lists all of them out. You can take a look at them here. We’re going to talk about some of them in later lessons.
The first one we have to focus on is the complaint. Before we get to drafting the complaint, which we’ll do in the next lesson, right now, I just want to talk about what form pleadings have to take. And for that, we need to look at Rule 10. We’ll see there that every pleading has to have a caption at the top, which lists the parties’ names, the court name, the file number, the court assigned to your case, and the type of pleading you are filing. In this instance, again, the type of pleading is a complaint.
All pleadings should state the parties’ claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs and address only “a single set of circumstances in each paragraph.” Exhibits can be attached to pleadings. So, for example, in a contract dispute, a plaintiff may want to attach the contract to the complaint, as an exhibit.
Okay. So now we have some sense of the form that a pleading should take. Let’s now get to work on drafting the complaint.
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