A Primer of Words Used Throughout Litigation
You have been wronged. You seek an attorney for legal advice to help resolve your matter. The lawyer does everything she can to resolve the matter without filing a lawsuit, but the matter will not settle. Your attorney explains that she will file a complaint and then discovery will be conducted and motions will be filed throughout the entire process. Not ever being involved in a lawsuit before, you have no idea what a complaint is or what an interrogatory is or what the purpose of a motion for summary judgment is and how it impacts your case. There is no need to fret. The following are easy to understand explanations of these legal terms, so you will know exactly what your attorney is talking about as your case proceeds.
Complaint: A complaint is a pleading that is filed to institute a lawsuit. The complaint will identify the parties to the action, the plaintiff and the defendant(s). Additionally, the complaint will articulate the pertinent facts that are the basis for the lawsuit and the claims that you are asserting against the defendant. The complaint will also state the relief sought in the lawsuit.
Answer: An answer is a responsive pleading to the complaint. For the most part, the answer will either admit or deny each numbered paragraph in the complaint. In addition, the answer may assert affirmative defenses. Affirmative defenses are defenses that the defendant states that could potentially diminish liability, if the affirmative defense is substantiated.
Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents: Interrogatories and requests for production of documents are part of the discovery process. Simply, interrogatories are questions to the opposing party. Requests for production of documents are exactly what they sound like: a request for the opposing party to produce certain documents. Answering interrogatories and producing documents provide greater clarity of the issues in your matter.
Motions: A motion is essentially a request to the Court to take action on a particular issue in your case. There are many types of motions that are utilized in various types of circumstances. For instance, a motion to compel is used in the discovery context and requests the Court to order the opposing party to answer interrogatories or produce documents. A motion for summary judgment is filed when you believe there is “no genuine of material fact” on a particular issue in your case. Motions for summary judgment can be partial or completely resolve your matter. A motion in limine is typically filed before trial and asks the court to exclude a piece of evidence for any number of reasons.
Each of the above terms often have a lot of moving parts associated with them in the context of your litigation. With that said, you now have a base understanding of what each of the words means. If your attorney ever says anything to you that you simply do not understand, do not hesitate to ask for clarification. Your attorney wants to make sure you know what is happening in your case and that you both are on the same page.