U.S. Civil Process
Originally published: January 2011
Introduction to the U.S. Civil Process
Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits.
These civil rules govern how the lawsuit is commenced, the service of process required, the types of pleadings (statements of case), motions (applications), and orders allowed. They also include: the timing and manner of depositions and discovery or disclosure; the process for judgment; the various remedies available; and, how the courts and clerks must function.
The most common types of civil cases in the United States include:
- Domestic — divorce, child support and custody, etc.
- Personal injury — actions to recover damages (money) for injuries.
- Contracts — disputes over agreements; often related to payment for goods and services. These civil cases would be of particular interest to creditors.
- Small Claims Court: Actions for less than $5,000
- District Court: Actions for less than $10,000, and all domestic cases
- Superior Court: Actions for more than $10,000
Each U.S. state, however, is free to develop its own system of civil procedure independent of the other states and the federal court system. Therefore, each jurisdiction in the U.S. can have different rules for civil procedure. Thirty-five states have adopted the FRCP.
In the case of contract law, as it relates to the sale of goods, the rules are highly standardized nationwide due to the widespread adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). In addition, various civil court procedures, whether federal or other jurisdictional, share similar principles.
The U.S. Civil Suit Process Flow
The 5-page chart begins at the point where a client authorizes a lawsuit. Each page has hyperlinks – yellow or green trapezoids – to off-page locations. There are also links to other sections on the same page, represented by turquoise circles.
This U.S. Civil Process chart provides a useful graphic representation of how our lawsuit system works in the United States.