In the law, a pleading is one of the papers filed with a court in a civil action, such as a complaint, a demurrer, or an answer. A complaint is the first pleading filed by a plaintiff which initiates a lawsuit. A complaint sets forth the relevant allegations of fact that give rise to one or more legal causes of action along with a prayer for relief whereas a demurrer is a pleading filed by a defendant which challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint and an answer is a pleading which admits or denies the specific allegations set forth in a complaint and constitutes a general appearance by a defendant. A defendant may also file a cross-complaint as well as bringing other parties into a case by the process of interpleader.
Types of pleading
Lawyers occasionally speak of "common law pleading," "code pleading," and "notice pleading." Common law pleading was the system of civil procedure used in England, where each cause of action had its own separate procedures. Because the causes were "frozen" too early during the development of the English legal system, lawyers had to engage in great ingenuity to shoehorn their clients' claims into the necessary "elements" required to bring an action.
In the 1850s, New York and California were among the first states to switch to "code pleading," in which civil procedure is unified for all types of actions as much as possible, and the required elements of each action are set out in carefully codified statutes.
However, code pleading was criticized because many lawyers felt that it was too difficult to fully research all the facts needed to bring a complaint before one had even initiated the action, and thus meritorious plaintiffs could not bring their complaints in time before the statute of limitations expired.
The dominant regime in the United States today is notice pleading, in which the plaintiff is required to state in their initial complaint only a short and plain statement of their cause of action. The idea is that a plaintiff and their attorney who have a reasonable but not perfect case can file a complaint first, put the other side on notice of the lawsuit, and then strengthen their case by compelling the defendant to produce evidence during the discovery phase.