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Pleadings are written formal allegations in support of either a claim or a defense, presented for the court’s consideration and judgment. Under FRPC 7, pleadings are limited to a complaint and an answer, a reply (to a counterclaim), an answer to a cross-claim, a third-party complaint, and a third-party answer.

The first pleading in an action is called a “complaint.” (In a minority of jurisdictions, the pleading may still be referred to as a “bill of complaint” or “declaration.”) FRCP 10(a) requires that a complaint contain, at a minimum the following:

  • a caption that contains the name of the court, the title of the action, the file number (provided by the court), and the names of all the parties
  • a short and plain statement of facts which tend to show that the pleader is entitled to relief
  • a demand for judgment for the relief to which plaintiff deems himself or herself entitled
  • a signature of an attorney of record and the attorney’s business address (or the party’s signature and address, if not represented by an attorney)
  • a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court’s jurisdiction depends

FRCP 7 provides that the responsive pleading to a complaint is called an answer. It generally contains denials of the allegations in the complaint and/or new matters asserted as counterclaims or affirmative defenses. However, under FRCP12 and most states’ rules, an interim responsive pleading may be in the form of a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment, for such reasons as failure to state a claim, lack of jurisdiction, insufficiency of process, etc. These generally constitute “affirmative defenses” that do not speak to the specific facts alleged in the complaint but rather challenge the validity of the complaint on some other grounds.

Under FRCP 8, allegations in a pleading to which a responsive pleading is required are admitted unless they are specifically denied in the answer. Moreover, under the federal rules, the defendant is required to assert all defenses in the responsive pleading or they will be waived. As part of the responsive pleading, FRCP 13 permits the raising of a counterclaim against the plaintiff, or a cross-claim against a co-party or a third party claim against a non-party (who will be served and joined as a party). There must be a reply to a counterclaim or cross-claim. Amendments to pleadings are permitted in the furtherance of justice and on the terms deemed proper by the court (FRCP 15).

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