This unit covers the first stages of Federal Civil Procedure that initiates a lawsuit—the Complaint, the Service of Process, and the Answer (we postpone an in-depth discussion of the Motion to Dismiss until later in the course). It also teaches you about Rule 11, one of the rules that aims to “keep lawyers honest” in that it imposes sanctions for various forms of bad behavior in the pleading and filing of motions.
Now would be a good time to re-read the capsule descriptions of the Complaint, Answer, and Service of Process in Unit 1 of the course.
Here is how this unit is organized.
2.1 Introduction to Pleading / Pleading in The “Old” Days (Pre-FRCP) introduces you to what a “Pleading” is and works through the possible functions it could play in a system of procedure. It also educates you very briefly about how Pleadings were handled before the FRCP system came into being in 1938, not because I expect you to be an expert on that earlier period, but because it is useful for building the contrast to how the FRCP system changed things. This sub-unit also introduces you to the basics of civil litigation and motions practice.
2.2 Basics of Modern Pleading—The Complaint discusses the Pleading that typically initiates a lawsuit, the Complaint, and the current rules that govern it in the federal system (FRCP 8). I share with you some “forms” that once-upon-a-time were part of the FRCP itself and treated as sufficient under the rules. You can skim these—they are mostly there to show you just how little it was accepted that you could plead and make it into court (this understanding has changed a little bit, a topic we take up in Unit 7 of the course). I provide you with two different sample Complaints to read quickly, both to see how the requirements of FRCP 8 are met and to give you a flavor for different kinds of litigation. An optional video interview in this unit takes you into the strategy behind formulating a Complaint and introduces you to the world of plaintiff-side law firms.
2.3 Service of Process teaches you how the Complaint must be provided to the Court and the Defendant(s). Once again, I provide you some of the Forms to show you what this actually looks like in court. This unit introduces a strategic issue that will prove very relevant in this and your other courses: statutes of limitation, which often incentivize or force you to act more quickly as a litigant than you might otherwise be inclined to do. Finally, I use the case of Wyman v. Newhouse to teach you a little about the strategic aspects of all this and the relationship between service of process and personal jurisdiction (Unit 5 of the course).
2.4 Responding to the Complaint by Answer (possibly followed by Reply) introduces you to the Answer: one option a Defendant has in responding to the Complaint option (the other option, the motion to dismiss, is taken up in greater depth in Unit 7). We will discuss the relevant FRCPs that define the Answer, and the timing for providing one. A sample Answer, again to be read quickly, let’s you see the rules governing the Answer in action.
2.5 Rule 11 and the Truthfulness of Pleadings teaches you about FRCP 11, the rule meant to ensure the truthfulness of the pleadings and other representations to the court. Besides learning the basics of the rule and seeing them deployed in an example case, this sub-unit will give you a close-up picture of how the FRCPs change over time and introduce you to the professional responsibilities of an attorney in the federal civil system—a topic covered more in-depth in other law school courses.
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