Litigation 101: The Inception of a Lawsuit
When parties are unable to resolve a dispute that impacts their legal rights, the injured party may decide to bring a lawsuit. In North Carolina, the initiation of a lawsuit, often called the “pleading stage,” is governed by the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and officially begins with the filing of a legal complaint.
A complaint is a legal document, filed by the plaintiff, that sets forth the plaintiff’s allegations and the remedy sought. Historically, common law rules governing what a complaint must allege were complicated, cumbersome, and difficult to satisfy. Despite having a claim, litigants would often find their claims dismissed for failure to comply with a technicality. As a result, many states, including North Carolina adopted rules relaxing these heightened pleading standards.
Today, Rule 8(a) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth what a viable complaint must allege: “[a] pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, whether an original claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim shall contain . . . [a] short and plain statement of the claim sufficiently particular to give the court and the parties notice of the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences, intended to be proved showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and [a] demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled.”
The North Carolina Supreme Court has explained that by inserting the phrase “claim for relief,” in place of “facts constituting a cause of action,” the General Assembly intended to relax the strict requirements found in the old pleading rules and to adopt the concept of “notice pleading.” See Sutton v. Duke, 277 N.C. 94 (1970). In sum, under the “notice pleading” standard, a statement of a claim is adequate if it gives sufficient notice of the claim asserted to enable the defendant to prepare for trial.
Though notice pleading relaxed the archaic pleading requirements of the common law, what constitutes sufficient notice is not always clear. For example, parties cannot rely purely on legal conclusions, lest they risk their claims being dismissed. As such, one should always contact a licensed attorney practicing in civil litigation to ensure their claims are properly presented to the court.