One of the most important things I do as a Litigation attorney is explain to my clients what has happened, and is likely to happen, in their lawsuit. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to do that using abstract legal jargon as though everyone uses these terms as often as I do. So, rather than leaving you searching Google to find out what your lawyer is talking about, let’s start by going through some common legal terms in Pennsylvania lawsuits:
Who is Involved?
- Plaintiff – The party or parties who starts a lawsuit against a
- Defendant – The party or parties being sued by a Plaintiff. Even if both parties have claims against each other, the Plaintiff is the one who files first regardless of the size of their respective claims.
- Litigation –The process of taking part in a lawsuit. “Litigators” are lawyers who practice Litigation.
- MDJ – Short for Magisterial District Judge. A MDJ presides over “small claims” court in Pennsylvania for disputes worth less than $12,000 or disputes about issues like landlord/tenant claims.
- Court of Common Pleas – The Pennsylvania court level where elected judges preside over claims. It is the step above and MDJ and can hear almost any type of claim.
What is Being Claimed?
- Complaint – The document a Plaintiff files that usually starts a lawsuit. Its numbered paragraphs lay out the facts of the case, legal theories supporting their position, and what they want the Court to give them.
- Answer – The document a Defendant files in response to a Complaint. It responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in a Complaint either by admitting that what the Plaintiff argues is true or denying it and explaining why it’s denied.
- Reply – This document is how a Plaintiff responds to any new claims made by a Defendant in an Answer.
- Default Judgment – If a Plaintiff or Defendant doesn’t respond to a Complaint or Answer in time, the other party can ask the Court to win automatically. The other party has given up by not defending themselves. (NOTE: if you get a “Notice of Default” warning you that a default may be entered, you need to seek legal counsel at once).
- Motion – A formal request for the Court to do something. It is for tasks more complex and less administrative than those of a Praecipe. Among the most common are requests for the Court to rule in one party’s favor (either dismissing a claim or awarding a Judgment).
- Praecipe – Pennsylvania’s mini-motion. It is a request for the Court to do something more administrative. For example, notifying the Court you have hired a new lawyer to represent you.
- Brief – A writing submitted to the court by a lawyer, usually in connection with a Motion, that argues their client’s legal theory. It’s the lawyer version of an essay or paper.