What is an Answer to a Complaint?

Several students  asked about answering the complaint. 

After receiving the complaint a defendant in the United States will usually either (i) move to dismiss the complaint (or a specific claim in the complaint) or (ii) answer the complaint.

For now, let's focus on the Answer.  When the defendant answers he admits or denies each of the allegations in the complaint. If he doesn't have sufficient information to know whether an allegation is true or not he will state that he does not know (deny knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief).  Each of the paragraphs and allegations in the complaint will be answered by the defendant.

For example, if a plaintiff alleges in paragraph 5 of the complaint that the defendant lied to the plaintiff, we would expect the defendant to deny the allegation.  All the defendant has to do is write something like, "Defendant denies the allegations in paragraph 5."   Let's say in paragraph 6 the plaintiff writes, "The defendant met with the plaintiff on January 10."  Well, the defendant might want to admit that allegation is true so he can simply write, "Defendant admits the allegations of paragraph 6."  And let's say the plaintiff alleges in paragraph 7, "The plaintiff was nervous on the day of the meeting."  The defendant might choose to answer, "The defendant denies knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to whether the plaintiff was nervous."  As in other aspects of civil litigation, you can probably guess that there is a good deal of strategy involved in answering a complaint.  

The defendant will typically not submit proof or evidence in his Answer.  That comes later.  In addition to his Answer, the defendant can also raise affirmative defenses and counterclaims but I'll discuss that seperately.  

Here is a link to a video I recently posted on the Answer to a Complaint.





Why not cheat during discovery?

A number of students asked why parties and attorneys in the United States comply with the discovery process.  As one student phrased it - -  "this is a matter of self defense" - - why would anyone willingly disclose to the other side a document that is harmful to his case?

One major reason is this: the consequences are severe and it is easy to get caught. For example, let's say XYZ company is sued.  Mr. A and Mr. B work for the XYZ company.    Last year Mr. A sent Mr. B an email.  But the email is damaging so XYZ company and its lawyer decide to hide the email and not disclose it during discovery.  But what if A or B mention the email in a deposition?  What if Mr. C knows about the email and mentions it during his deposition?  What if Mr. B forwarded the email to D, E, and F?   The XYZ company's computer system will have a record of the email.  Witnesses will be asked how they collected and preserved emails.  There is a very good chance that the email will not stay hidden for long.  And hiding the email could result in serious sanctions against XYZ company and its lawyer.

In addition, even a lawyer who is not innately honest should at least be selfish enough to realize that his long term interests are hurt if he develops a reputation for dishonesty during the discovery process.  Similarly, a company that frequently litigates does not want a reputation for dishonesty during discovery.  

On a more positive side, I do think that most lawyers are honest and take their obligations seriously.  Lawyers also tell clients how vital it is to be forthright.  In the long run, it is better to deal with a difficult document than it is to try and hide it.   If a document is responsive to a discovery request and there are no grounds to withhold it then the document should be produced.  Most lawyers, I believe, are not going to play games.  


What does it mean when Congress 'imposes stricter pleading requirements'?

Generally speaking, it is easy to commence a litigation in the United States because pleading requirements are not strict.  That is, a plaintiff can usually file a lawsuit without including too much detail and without including evidence.  The additional details and evidence can come later.  These same lax rules also apply to counterclaims and defenses. 

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure imposes three requirements on a complaint: a short and plain statement of subject matter jurisdiction, a short and plain statement showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief, and a demand.  Rule 9 requires some additional detail if a complaint or counterclaim alleges fraud (or a defense relates to a mistake).  

Some people criticize lax pleading requirements on grounds that it harms defendants who must pay money to defend or to settle meritless claims. Congress enacted the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (the PSLRA) in 1995 to curb purportedly meritless securities fraud litigation. The PSLRA makes it more difficult for plaintiffs to commence the lawsuit by requiring additional details in the complaint Recently, interest groups in the United States and members of Congress have worked to enact stricter pleading requirements and other reforms related to patent troll litigation.  

You might want to look at some videos I uploaded regarding pleading requirements in the federal courts.

What is "tag" jurisdiction?

Tag jurisdiction is a way for a court in one state to consitutionally assert personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who visits the state where the court presides.  The court will have personal jurisdiction if the defendant is properly served while in the state.  "Properly served" means receiving proper notification of the lawsuit.  

For example, let's say Peter sues Debby in New York.  Debby lives in Florida and New York does not have personal jurisdiction over her.  One day, Debby visits New York.  Peter notifies Debby of the lawsuit while she is visiting New York - -  let's say he hands her a copy of the Complaint and the court agrees that handing her the complaint is proper service.  Now the New York court can constitutionally assert jurisdiction over Debby, even if she has no other contact with the state.   

Thanks for this question in class today.  Some videos on personal jurisdiction are here.






Schuette v. BAMN: One Case, Eight Judges, Five Opinions

A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, Schuette v. BAMN is interesting for all sorts of reasons.  One point of interest if you are studying US law is to note the concurring opinions.  A concurring opinion is where a judge agrees with a result but may have different or additional reasons for reaching that result.

In the United States  appellate level federal courts  hears cases as a panel.  In the Circuit Courts of Appeal, the intermediate level federal courts, a panel of three judges usually decides the case.  Sometimes more judges hear the case if it is very important.   The Supreme Court, which is the highest federal court, has nine justices.  In the Schuette case, only eight justices heard the case because one judge was recused.

The issue in the case was whether an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Michigan, as voted on by the people of Michigan, violated the Constitution of the United States.   The Circuit Court held that the amendment was unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause.  

Of the eight justices that ruled in the Schuette case, six justices disagreed with the Circuit Court of Appeal and voted to reverse.  But if you look at the case you can see that the case resulted in five different opinions.

First, three justices wrote the opinion of the plurality, determining that the Circuit Court misunderstood case law and incorrectly invalidated the amendment to the state constitution.  

Second, the Chief Justice wrote a short concurring opinion, in which he mainly responded to criticisms by justices who disagreed with the plurality's decision.

Third, two justices joined in a concurring opinion in which they agreed with the result reached by the plurality, but vigorously disagreed with the line of cases on which the plurality relied.

Fourth, one judge wrote a concurring opinion in which he agreed that the amendment was constitutional, but emphasized the democratic voting process by which the amendment was added to the state constitution.

Finally, two justices joined in a dissenting opinion, which was longer in length than the plurality and concurring opinions combined, vigorously disputing the plurality and concurring opinions.  


Do plaintiffs need to include proof in complaints initiating cases in federal court?

This was a great question from a class yesterday.   The short answer is "No."    But like any good question it leads to other questions, such as "why?"  The history and politics involved in pleading requirements are interesting.  

Over the next few days I will upload some videos on this topic but here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (which date back to 1938) generally make it easy to start a case.  As long as the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction, the US federal court system favors getting the case started and worrying about whether the plaintiff can gather enough evidence to prove his case later.  The Rules were intended to make starting a case simple and to avoid legal gamesmanship.  

2. In 2007 the Supreme Court held that a plaintiff's complaint must include factual allegations that demonstrate his case is at least "plausible."  Since 1957 federal courts had applied an easier standard but now federal courts will ask whether there are factual allegations that meet the plausibility standard.    

3. In some types of cases courts will impose much stricter pleading requirements.  Rule 9 of the Federal Rules requires more detail in allegations of fraud.  In 1995 Congress passed a a statute called the PSLRA (Private Securities Litigation Reform Act) which requires plaintiffs in federal securities fraud cases to include even more detail than the allegations required to initiate a standard fraud case.  

For now, here is a video regarding general pleading requirements:



Understanding Circuit Splits: Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc.

A decision a few weeks ago by the Supreme Court provides a helpful illustration of Circuit Splits.  The issue in this case was "when may a plaintiff sue for false advertising under federal law?"  The federal law is called the Lanham Act.

The Circuit Courts of Appeal were split as to when a plaintiff was allowed to sue.  In fact, there were three different approaches - - for example, the Second Circuit, the Third Circuit, and Seventh Circuit each had different criteria to determine when a plaintiff was allowed to sue.  The Supreme Court did not exactly accept any of the three approaches and established the correct test.  The Supreme Court's decision means that each of the Circuits must now follow the Supreme Court's approach.   

What are general and specific personal jurisdiction?

I posted a video on general and specific jurisdiction which is part of a playlist on personal jurisdiction.   I hope the videos are helpful.

The Supreme Court has taken a number of personal jurisdiction cases recently, including a decision from February 2014.

In 2011 the Supreme Court decided a personal jurisdiction case which is especially worth reading because of its helpful explanation of general and specific jurisdiction.


What is remand?

You can think of remand as the reverse of removal.  Remand follows an improper removal.  Here is an example:

Let's say we have a defendant sued in New York state court.   The plaintiff is a citizen of New York.  The defendant notifies the court that he is a citizen of California and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.  

Removal was easy.  The defendant just took the case out of state court and brought it to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction (NY plaintiff, CA defendant, amount in controversy > $75,000).

So now the case is in federal court.  However, the defendant is actually not a citizen of California.  He is a citizen of New York.  There is no diversity because the plaintiff and defendant are citizens of the same state. 

What should the plaintiff do?  The plaintiff should ask the federal court (move the federal court) to remand the case back to state court.  If the court agrees with the plaintiff the judge will find that there is no diversity jurisdiction.  If there is no diversity subject matter jurisdiction the federal court must remand the case back to state court.   The case will the proceed in state court.


What does it mean to remove a case from state court to federal court?

A party can remove a case from state court to federal court if the case originally could have been brought in federal court.

For example, if a plaintiff who is a citizen of New York sues a defendant who is a citizen of Florida for $100,000, a federal court could assert diversity jurisdiction over the action.

But let's say the plaintiff chooses to sue in New York State Court.  There's nothing wrong with that (we can discuss personal jurisdiction in another post).  However, the defendant from FL might not want to litigate in state court.  The defendant can remove the case to federal court based on diversity.  Removal is actually a pretty simple procedure and the case will continue in a New York federal court.

Some things to keep in mind:

1.  The party removing the case cannot wait too long.  There are time limits.

2. A party cannot remove a case based on diversity if he is already litigating in his home state.  For example, let's say our case in the story above is in Florida state court, not New York state court.   The citizen of Florida litigating in Florida state court  cannot remove to a federal court in Florida.  Why?  Because he is already in his home state.  He can't complain about litigating in Florida state court because Florida is "his" state.  

3. Remember our major rule: removal is proper if the case could originally been brought in federal court.

Here is a short video.