What is a Lawsuit?

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ビデオで話している英語内容!- Thanks to Dashlane for keeping Legal Eagle in the air. Have you ever wanted to know how a lawsuit works? Most people think of lawsuits as being these big scary animals that are completely opaque and esoteric. But the truth is, they are vital to the functioning of our society and can right wrongs where they occur. But today I wanna demystify the process so that if you ever need to use a lawsuit or find yourself in the middle of one, you’ll at least know how they operate. Hey Legal Eagles, it’s time to think like a lawyer. Today we are covering civil lawsuits
or as most people refer to them, just lawsuits. As always, be sure to subscribe and comment in the form of an objection, which I will either sustain or overrule. I wanted to cover lawsuits today because there are a lot of misconceptions about how the civil process works. And let me start out this discussion by drawing a distinction between the civil process of law and the criminal process. The criminal process is probably the one that you see most often on TV and in movies. That is where you have committed a crime and you are prosecuted by the state. And generally the penalties for a criminal offense
is jail time. Sometimes there are monetary penalties that go along with a crime but the bottom line is that generally speaking the criminal process involves the state prosecuting you for crimes against society. The civil process on the other hand is different. The civil process is how you get compensation for damages that are caused by another person. Damages that are caused in the form of usually a breach of contract or what we call torts, which are civil wrongs, things that are not crimes but are violations of norms such that we believe that one person
should compensate the other. Generally speaking, the end goal of the civil process is to receive monetary compensation for the wrongs that you have suffered. As opposed to the criminal process where you have done a wrong against society and you can go to jail as a result. So today we’re going to be talking exclusively about the civil law process, not the criminal process and the main tool of the civil process which is of course is the lawsuit. Now of course, there are always a million exceptions to the things I’m going to talk about which is why there are lawyers and you should always consult a lawyer
before engaging in any kind of civil process. But today I wanna go over the broad strokes so you have a general idea of how a lawsuit works. A lawsuit starts with what’s called a complaint. A complaint is the document that initiates your civil suit against somebody else. It require a couple of things. Primarily it is your factual statement of allegations as to what happened. How you have been wronged and why you are entitled to some sort of compensation. It contains a statement of proper jurisdiction and venue to show that this particular court is the one that should be hearing this particular lawsuit. But for the most part it contains your factual allegations.
Your story of what happened. And at the end of the complaint there Is this statement of law that explains the causes of action that give rise to your particular claim. So after you have the factual statement about what happened, you’ll have the legal statement about why those particular facts fit the elements of a particular cause of action or claim and that entitles you to some sort of compensation. So for example, a few weeks back I covered the Fornite dance controversy. Where certain artists were suing video game manufacturers, claiming that they had stolen their copyrighted dance.
In their complaints, they laid out that these particular artists had in fact created a copyrightable works in the form of dances. So that was the factual predicate. They laid out that the video game manufacturers had taken these copyrighted works, used them without permission, again the factual predicate, and then at the end they stated that this was a violation of copyright law, citing to the federal standard for copyright infringement. So that’s an example what the complaint looks like, it’s the initiating document, it contains the factual and legal reasoning
for why you think you should get compensation from another person. The next step after someone files a complaint, generally speaking, is to file what’s called an answer or a motion to dismiss. The person who files the complaint is called the plaintiff. And generally speaking, the person who responds to the complaint is the defendant. Now once the plaintiff files the complaint, the defendant has basically two options. One is called an answer, the other is called a motion to dismiss. The answer, not surprisingly, is an answering document to the complaint.
Which goes line by line over the factual allegations in the complaint and either admits to those particular facts or denies them. Now it might seem strange to admit anything in a complaint but really in any given lawsuit there will be things that both sides agree to, facts that are not really in dispute and facts that they deny and that they say never happened. So the purpose of the answer is to stipulate the facts that are not in dispute and to deny the facts that are in dispute. The second option, if it is available, is called a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss doesn’t challenge the facts of the complaint,
there will be time for that later in the lawsuit. The motion to dismiss simply says that even if everything that the plaintiff says is 100% true from a factual standpoint, it still doesn’t give rise to any kind of legal remedy. It is legally invalid. So let’s say that someone files a lawsuit against you for being a big mean jerk face. Well there’s no cause of action called jerk face. The law doesn’t allow you to get compensation just because someone was a jerk face to you. That might make you a bad person but that doesn’t mean that you have an obligation to pay them any sort of money. However, let’s say that someone files a claim
for defamation. Defamation requires one, a false statement of a fact rather than an opinion, publication or communication of that statement, and fault amounting to at least negligence and then suffering damages as a result of that untrue fact statement. Now let’s assume that the complaint alleging defamation is 100% factually incorrect. You either never said the statement in question or the statements are true and therefor couldn’t have been a false fact that was communicated. In that circumstance a motion to dismiss wouldn’t work. Because a motion to dismiss assumes that the facts in the complaint are true.
A motion to dismiss only tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. And in this particular case, someone has alleged legal predicate for defamation. There will be time later on to show that the facts are wrong but effectively at these early stages the only things that you can do as a defendant are either answer or file a motion to dismiss. Which only tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint not the factual sufficiency. And if you lose a motion to dismiss then you will just have to answer just like any other defendant. So once the complaint and answer have been filed the court has said that at least as alleged
there is legal sufficiency for the lawsuit, then what generally happens is you proceed into what’s called discovery. Discovery is the process by which both sides give up all the information that is relevant to the particular lawsuit. Both the claims that the plaintiff is making and any defenses that the defendant has. Long gone are the days where you can ambush people at trial. Trial is really just the tip of the lawsuit iceberg. For the most part, most of the lawsuit consists of this factual discovery back and forth because we’ve decided that it is better for the judicial process for people to have all of the relevant information that is necessary to adjudicate these cases
before going to trial. Discovery consists of essentially requests from one side to the other and then responses from that side back to the original requesting side. This includes things like interrogatories which are questions that the other side has to answer. It includes document requests where you request a certain category of documents. And unless it’s objectionable, the other side must respond by providing all of those documents. You’ll often see on TV and movies, people talking about being buried in documents. One way of responding to document requests
is to not look at them discreetly and specifically and just giving the other side every document that could be responsive to the request that you have made. So it’s often in your best interest to write your document request in such a way that you get the documents that you want but don’t create this really huge bourdon from the other side to compile hundreds of thousands or millions of documents as a result of these requests. You need to thread that needle. And of course discovery also consists of depositions which is where you get to question a witness. Witnesses are under oath,
they’re responses are recorded by a stenographer. Recently I just reviewed the movie The Social Network which is really interesting from my perspective because it is told almost entirely through deposition testimony. And you can imagine that when you’re in a lawsuit being able to question witnesses and parties to that lawsuit can be a very, very important tool to find out what happened in any particular legal situation. It’s a great way to get evidence and to be able to destroy the other side’s legal claims as well. But of course the downside to the factual discovery process is that it is very resource intensive.
It takes a ton of time to draft requests, to respond to requests. And then of course to cull through sometimes millions of pages of documents just to look for the things that support your case or support your defense. Discovery is what makes up the vast majority of litigating a lawsuit. So generally speaking, once factual discovery has commenced or has completed, one or both of the parties will file what’s called a motion for summary judgment. Now where a motion to dismiss does not attach any evidence whatsoever because it takes the allegations and the complaint as true,
a motion for summary judgment can use evidence. You will compile some of the evidence that you gathered through document requests, through interrogatories and through depositions, you will attach that to your motion and it’s basically a trial on paper. The motion for summary judgement is a way of ending a lawsuit early without getting to trial. But the downside is that both sides effectively must agree to the evidence that is undisputed. And of course many sides do in fact dispute the evidence at the motion for summary judgment stage. But a judge will take that into consideration and will look at the evidence presented and actually determine if the parties
really do dispute the evidence or if the other side can offer contradictory evidence. So assuming that it’s the defendant that files a motion for summary judgment and says that even with undisputed facts the lawsuit fails, the plaintiff can respond to a motion for summary judgment by saying legally their case is still sound and that even with these undisputed facts they are entitled to a legal remedy. Or the plaintiff can beat a motion for summary judgment by demonstrating that in fact the facts go different ways, that there’s contradictory evidence and that the facts are disputed in such a way that a motion for summary judgment
should not be granted. Now assuming that all motions for summary judgment are denied, that generally leads to pretrial motions and what we call motions in limine which are motions that deal with evidentiary issues. One thing you see in legal movies and legal TV shows all the time is that they have all of these evidentiary disputes in the middle of trial. That’s not particularly realistic. For the most part, if you have evidence that A, you think is really, really important and B, you think the other side is going to contest and not stipulate to the admission of that evidence,
what you’ll want to do is file a pretrial motion to allow that evidence to come in. So for the most part, all of the really important evidentiary issues don’t happen in the middle of trial where there’s this Perry Mason moment where you’re not sure if the judge is going to allow your evidence to come in or not. That’s taken care of months before the trial in pretrial motions and motions in limine because if the evidence is really important and you need it to come in, you want to provide as much briefing and as much legal reasoning as to why it should come in. Or legal reasoning as to why the other side’s evidence
should be kept out because you’ll never be able to do as much in oral argument especially on the day of trial. After the pretrial issues are dealt with that leads to trial. Now less than 2% of all filed lawsuits ever get anywhere close to trial. For the most part, most lawsuits are either rejected at the motion stage or they will settle ahead of time long before you get to trial. Because trial is incredibly expensive. But assuming that you get to trial, of course everybody knows about opening statements where each side will explain
what facts they intend to bring out in that particular trial. Then you go on to examinations where you conduct the direct examination of your witnesses, the plaintiff goes first. Then each individual witness is cross-examined by the defense. Then the defense witnesses go where the defendants will provide their witnesses who are examined and cross-examined by the plaintiffs. Then there are closing arguments which is the one place where you are allowed to engage in argument. Openings are generally supposed to be argument free, just explaining what kind of facts are gonna come out.
Closing arguments is where you are able to tie everything together. And then after closing argument the trier of fact, whether that is a judge or a jury, will render a decision about which side wins or loses. There can be an appeal. On appeal, you’re not retrying the facts, the facts are set by the trial court. On appeal the only things that are at issue are discreet legal issues. With a given set of facts the court of appeal will look at the decisions that the trial court made and determine if they were legally correct based on those facts. Of course there are exceptions to this
but that’s generally what’s happening when you appeal. And by the way, I’ve heard so many times people say, I’m goin to appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court. No, no you’re not. The Supreme Court doesn’t really review run of the mill lawsuits. The Supreme Court only takes a case if there is a tricky Constitutional question or a question of first impression that deals with federal laws. Odds are, your lawsuit doesn’t come anywhere close to those issues, so there’s no way you will ever appeal your case to the Supreme Court. It’s just not going to happen.
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