Civil Process

Civil Process in the United States

The civil process is governed by rules and procedures established largely through statute. While these processes are relatively formalized, civil litigants do not bring with them the constitutional protections that apply to criminal defendants. While a number of discrete steps exists, the process can be divided into four principal stages. The first is commencement of the suit. The plaintiff files a complaint, jurisdiction is established over the defendant through a service or notification process, and the defendant files some kind of answer. Next, there is a lengthy pretrial period during which discovery of evidence occurs. Discovery can take several forms and is the heart of the civil process in many respects. Other pretrial procedures exist, including conferences scheduled by civil courts between the parties. The objective is to ready a case for trial, but judges use the conference to move the parties to settlement if possible. It has also become common for alternate means of conflict resolution to be sought, such as mediation and arbitration. In some jurisdictions, these processes must be attempted before a case can be tried. By the time the third or trial stage is reached, much time has elapsed and an overwhelming majority of civil cases have been resolved by settlement. A trial occurs when fact-finding by a third party—a judge or jury—is still required to conclude the case. The final stage has to do with relief or remedy. It is the function of civil courts, once a judgment has been rendered, to enforce that judgment in some way such that a successful civil plaintiff has his or her injury remedied to the fullest extent possible. As with criminal cases, there are avenues of appeal that may be pursued by parties to civil actions.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Civil Process from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Civil Process: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Civil Process. This part provides references, in relation to Civil Process, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Civil Process by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Civil Process and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Civil Process or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Civil Process and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Civil Process. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Civil Process should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Civil Process when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

Leave a Comment