Understanding Pleading and Motions in California Civil Litigation
Pleadings and motions can be used to benefit your civil litigation case in California. Most have specific deadlines or timelines. Failing to strategically and timely file pleadings or motions can seriously and negatively impact your claim while meeting them can steer your case toward a successful outcome.
At Bowen & Kennedy, P.C, our civil litigator in Los Angeles uses insight, knowledge, and experience to determine which and when certain motions should be filed. Contact us at 213-297-7292 to schedule a free initial consultation and to get your civil case started in a positive, proactive manner.
What are Pleadings and Motions?
Motions and pleadings are often referred to as if they are the same or similar things – they are, however, different. Likewise, their purposes are different. Any successful civil litigation case will rely on the lawyer's and the client's understanding of pleadings and motions.
Pleadings are formal statements in a judicial setting. Lawsuits are commenced once a party files a formal statement or complaint with the court clerk. Pleadings also act as a formal appearance when the defendant answers the complaint and files it with the same court clerk. Pleadings do not ask the judge to make decisions.
Motions, on the other hand, ask judges to make decisions. Motions are mostly written but can be oral requests that can be presented only after the complaint has been filed. Motions should be accompanied by statutory and case law to persuade the judge to issue an order accordingly. Oftentimes, a motion will lead to a hearing where the parties argue for or against the motion before the judge and jury, if applicable.
Pleadings and Pre-Trial Motions in California
Pleadings in civil litigation are formal written documents that outline the claims, defenses, and legal arguments of the parties involved in a lawsuit. These documents are filed with the court and serve as the foundation for the legal dispute. They are an essential part of the litigation process, as they set the stage for the case and provide notice to all parties about the issues in contention.
Pleadings and pre-trial motions are filed prior to trial and will have the same caption that includes the following information:
- Name(s) of plaintiff(s)
- Name(s) of defendant(s)
- Case number (docket number)
- Name or type of pleading
- Court name
- Judge name (if known)
The main types of pleadings are described below.
- Complaint. This is the initial pleading filed by the plaintiff (the party bringing the lawsuit). The complaint outlines the plaintiff's claims, the factual basis for those claims, and the relief or remedies sought from the court. It essentially initiates the lawsuit.
- Answer. The defendant (the party being sued) responds to the complaint with an answer. In the answer, the defendant admits or denies the allegations made in the complaint. It may also include affirmative defenses and counterclaims if the defendant has claims against the plaintiff.
- Counterclaim. If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they can file a counterclaim within their answer. A counterclaim is a separate claim against the plaintiff, which becomes part of the same lawsuit.
- Cross-Claim. In cases with multiple defendants or plaintiffs, one defendant may assert a cross-claim against another defendant or plaintiff. Cross-claims typically involve disputes between parties on the same side of the main lawsuit.
- Third-Party Complaint. A defendant may file a third-party complaint to bring in a new party who is not originally part of the lawsuit but is potentially liable to the defendant for some or all of the plaintiff's claims.
- Amended Pleadings. Parties can seek court permission to amend their pleadings to make changes, correct errors, or add new claims or defenses as the case progresses.
- Reply. In response to a counterclaim, the plaintiff may file a reply, which addresses the allegations raised in the counterclaim.
The main types of pretrial motions are described below.
- Motion to Dismiss. Though either party can file a motion to dismiss if they believe the case should be terminated for legal reasons (e.g., lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a claim), it is typically the defendant who files such a motion. This is not a traditional pleading but can be part of the pre-trial process.
- Motion for Summary Judgment. This pre-trial motion seeks a judgment in favor of one party. It argues that there are no genuine disputes of material fact, and the case should be decided based on the law alone. It's often used when the facts are not in dispute, and the case can be resolved based on legal principles.
- Motion for Default Judgment. When a defendant fails to respond to a lawsuit or otherwise participate in the legal process, the plaintiff can file this motion to request a judgment in their favor by default.
- Motion for Change of Venue. In cases where the current venue is inconvenient or prejudicial to one party, this motion requests the court to transfer the case to a different location.
- Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. This motion is filed after the pleadings are closed and seeks a judgment in favor of one party based solely on the pleadings.
The specific procedures and requirements may vary by jurisdiction. Our civil litigation attorney in California will help you navigate this complex process, prepare the necessary pleadings, and advocate on your behalf throughout the legal proceedings.
Types of Motions in California Used in Civil Litigation
Throughout the litigation process, all parties file motions that are heard before the court. The point of a motion is to have the court render a decision on an issue contested by the parties. Some motions are for issues that may not have a huge influence on the outcome of the case, while others can have a case dismissed in its entirety.
There is a wide range of motions that may be brought in civil court, and some of the most common are briefly described below.
Motion to Compel
When one party wants to force another party to take some sort of action that they are refusing to perform, they can file a motion to compel. If the motion is granted, the court will issue an order compelling the non-cooperative party to do what has been requested.
Motion to Compel Discovery
This motion is filed to request that the court orders the opposing party to provide requested information during the discovery process. It's used when one party believes the other is withholding relevant documents, answers to interrogatories, or other discovery materials.
Motion to Strike
When one party wishes for a statement or piece of evidence to be removed from the record of judicial proceedings, they can bring a motion to strike. This motion can also be used to ask the court to remove certain allegations or parts of a pleading (e.g., a complaint) because they are irrelevant, immaterial, or legally insufficient.
Motion for Continuance
This motion asks the court to postpone a scheduled hearing, trial, or other court proceedings. It's usually made when one party needs more time to prepare or due to unforeseen circumstances.
Motion for Joinder
This motion seeks to add additional parties to a lawsuit when their involvement is necessary to fully adjudicate the case.
Motion for Preliminary Injunction
Parties file this motion to request that the court orders a party to do or refrain from doing something while the case is pending. It's often used in cases where immediate action is necessary to prevent irreparable harm.
Motion for Protective Order
Parties file this motion to request that certain information or documents remain confidential or be subject to limited disclosure during the litigation process.
Motion for Relief from Judgment
This motion is used to ask the court to set aside or modify a previously issued judgment or order. It's often based on newly discovered evidence, legal errors, or other compelling reasons.
Motion for Remittitur or Additur
After a jury verdict, parties may file a motion for remittitur (to reduce damages) or additur (to increase damages) if they believe the jury's award was excessive or inadequate.
Motion for Sanctions
When a party believes the opposing party or their attorney has engaged in improper conduct during the case (such as frivolous filings or discovery abuse), they can seek sanctions as a penalty.
Motion in Limine
A motion in limine is used when one party wishes to prevent certain evidence from being used at trial and going to the jury. Based on the arguments and the law, the judge determines whether or not the evidence should be excluded.
Using Pleadings and Motions as Strategy in Civil Litigation
Civil litigation can be a complex and lengthy process, involving numerous legal maneuvers, negotiations, and courtroom appearances. One powerful tool in a litigator's arsenal is the strategic use of motions. Skillfully employing motions can significantly impact the trajectory and outcome of a case.
Below are some examples of how our civil litigator at Bowen & Kennedy, P.C in California strategically uses motions to achieve favorable results for our clients.
- You can use a motion to dismiss to challenge the foundation of a plaintiff's complaint. By filing it, we can save you time and resources if the court agrees that the complaint lacks legal merit.
- You can use a motion for summary judgment to seek a quick resolution. We use this motion when the evidence overwhelmingly supports our client's position. It is a powerful tool to end a case without a full trial.
- You can use a motion in limine to control evidence. We use this motion when we want to request that certain evidence or testimony be excluded from trial. It helps prevent prejudicial or irrelevant information from influencing the jury. By filing this motion, we can shape the narrative and limit the information that the opposing party can present.
- You can use a motion for discovery to gain valuable information. Discovery is a normal part of the process where both parties request information, documents, or evidence from the opposing party. It is a crucial tool for building a case. We employ this motion strategically to obtain essential information or to compel the other party to produce evidence they may be reluctant to share.
- You can use a motion for continuance to buy precious time. We can ask the court to postpone a trial or hearing when it's necessary to prepare the case effectively. We often use this motion when unforeseen circumstances or new evidence arises, thus, warranting more preparation time.
- You can use a motion for sanctions to penalize another party's misconduct. Misconduct includes actions by the opposing party to, for example, withhold evidence or make false statements. We use this motion as a powerful deterrent against unethical behavior by the opposing party.
- You can use a motion to compel to force compliance. We use this motion when the opposing party is uncooperative, as it can ensure they follow court orders and provide necessary information.
Legal strategy involves more than the motion itself, but how the motion is drafted and when it is filed. Filing too early or too late can create missed opportunities and limit leverage. It takes insight and a meaningful understanding of pleadings and motions to put forth an effective civil litigation strategy.
Contact a Civil Litigation Lawyer in Los Angeles Today
Strategic use of motions can be a game-changer. At Bowen & Kennedy, P.C, we firmly believe in our civil litigator's ability to employ these tools effectively to shape the outcome of your civil dispute in California. Remember, it's not just about knowing the law; it's also about knowing how to use it strategically in your favor.
If you are involved in a legal dispute, we will help you navigate the complexities of the legal system. Contact us today by filling out the online form or contacting us at 213-297-7292 to schedule a free initial consultation.