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Civil Procedure - Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) govern civil procedure in the United States district courts, or more simply, court procedures for civil suits. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then approved by the United States Congress. The Court's modifications to the rules are usually based on recommendations from the Judicial Conference of the United States, the federal judiciary's internal policy-making body. Although federal courts are required to apply the substantive law of the states as rules of decision in cases where state law is in question, the federal courts almost always use the FRCP as their rules of procedure. States make their own rules that apply in their own courts, but most states have adopted rules that are based on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The rules, established in 1938, replaced the earlier Field Code and common law pleadings. They have undergone significant revisions in 1948, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1993, 2000, and 2006. (The FRCP contains a notes section which details the changes of each revision since 1938, explaining the rationale behind the wording). The most recent revisions, which took effect in December 2006, made practical changes to discovery rules to make it easier for courts and litigating parties to manage electronic records.

Before the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were established, common law pleading was more formal, traditional, and particular in its phrases and requirements. For example, a plaintiff bringing a trespass suit would have to mention certain key words in his complaint or risk it being dismissed with prejudice. In contrast, the FRCP is based on a legal construction called notice pleading, which is less formal, created and modified by legal experts, and far less technical in requirements. In notice pleading, the same plaintiff bringing suit would not face dismissal for lack of the exact legal term, so long as the claim itself was legally actionable. The policy behind this change is to simply give "notice" of your grievances, and leave the details for later in the case. This acts in the interest of equity by concentrating on the actual law and not the exact construction of pleas.

In addition to notice pleading, a minority of states (e.g. California) use an intermediate system known as Code Pleading. Code pleading is an older system than notice pleading and is based on legislative statute. It tends to straddle the gulf between obsolete common-law pleading and modern notice pleading. Code pleading places additional burdens on a party to plead the "ultimate facts" of its case, laying out the party's entire case and the facts or allegations underlying it. Notice pleading, by contrast, simply requires a "short and plain statement" showing only that the pleader is entitled to relief. (FRCP 8(a)(2)). One important exception to this rule is that when a party alleges fraud, that party must plead the facts of the alleged fraud with particularity. (FRCP 9(b)).

(The Field Code was an intermediate step between common law and modern rules, created by New York attorney David Dudley Field. Adopted 1848–50. Field's code, among other reforms, merged law and equity proceedings into one.)


Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (2007, March 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:19, March 26, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Federal_Rules_of_Civil_Procedure&oldid=117997594





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