Civil Procedure Rules

"Civil procedure" refers to the process by which civil litigation is conducted. The rules of civil procedure govern when and how documents can be filed, discovery rules, how trials are conducted, and many other aspects of civil litigation.

Civil procedure rules have the force of law. However, they should be distinguished from the substantive laws that are actually the subject of litigation. Substantive laws govern the legal rights and responsibilities of people in society. For example, in a negligence lawsuit, the law governing negligence and its penalties is the substantive law. But the civil procedure rules will govern how the rights and liabilities of the parties are actually adjudicated.

LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

The civil procedure rules are designed to make the civil litigation system as inexpensive, accessible, fair, and efficient as possible. Read more.


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Details of Civil Procedure Rules

Civil procedure rules govern things like how a complaint is filed, what type of evidence is admissible, and, many other issues.

In the early stages of a lawsuit, the civil procedure rules are largely focused on fairness to the defendant, while balancing that interest against the plaintiff's right to seek legal redress for alleged injuries caused by the defendant.

One of the biggest issues that can come up in civil procedure is jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is simply a court's legal and/or constitutional authority to hear a particular type of case, involving a particular person. In order to hear any lawsuit, a court must first make sure that it has personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction.

Personal jurisdiction is a court's authority to decide legal disputes involving a particular person. Generally, personal jurisdiction can be found when the defendant lives in the same state as the court that will be hearing the case. If they do not live in that state, they can still be sued there, assuming that they have minimum contacts with the forum state.

Minimum contacts can usually be established if it is shown that the defendant did a large amount of business in the state in which he or she is being sued.

The other thing that must be established is subject matter jurisdiction.  Subject matter jurisdiction has to do with the court's power to hear certain types of cases, and is totally separate from personal jurisdiction. For example, a tax court only has subject matter jurisdiction over matters dealing with tax law, and traffic court only has subject matter jurisdiction to hear matters having to do with traffic and vehicle law. However, the civil courts that hear the vast majority of lawsuits tend to have very broad subject matter jurisdiction, and in most lawsuits filed in state courts, subject matter jurisdiction is almost never a serious issue.

Once the issue of jurisdiction has been settled (if it is even raised in the first place), the next major civil procedure issue is discovery.

Discovery is the process by which the parties to a lawsuit collect relevant evidence from one another. Typically, this involves the parties exchanging documents they have in their possession that might be pertinent to the lawsuit. Both parties are legally required to divulge relevant information.

Discovery can involve depositions, which are question and answer sessions between a witness (or party) in a lawsuit, and an attorney for one of the parties to the lawsuit. Just like testimony in court, the witness is under oath during a deposition, and everything that goes on in the room is recorded. This allows all the information a witness has to get on the record before a trial, without them needing to show up in court.

Civil procedure rules put some restrictions on discovery, however. Privileged communications between attorneys and their clients cannot be discovered or used in courts. Also, trade secrets are usually not discoverable. Of course, there are often disputes between the parties over whether a particular piece of information is protected from being discovered, and the civil procedure rules are designed to settle these disputes.

If you are involved in a lawsuit, you will invariably have to deal with the civil procedure rules of your state and local court system. For that reason, you should always speak with a local civil litigation attorney before filing any lawsuit.


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