What are “rules of civil procedure”?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The established methods and practices used to resolve controversies are embodied in sets of rules referred to as “civil procedure.” The rules of civil procedure are designed to promote fairness in legal proceedings, ensure cases are filed and heard in a timely fashion, and uphold the dignity of the court system. Every state uses two different types of civil procedure. Federal civil procedure applies to the federal courts. The rules for federal procedure are nearly universal. State civil procedure is used in the specific state court and is different in every state. In general, the rules of civil procedure can be broken down into specific categories.


The jurisdiction of a case determines where the case can or must be heard. In order for a case to appear in federal court, it must either be involving parties from two different states or countries and the amount in question must be more than $75,000.

Another way that a case can be heard in federal court is if the case is regarding a federal law. Examples of federal laws include EPA guidelines, civil rights cases, and gun law restrictions. As a general rule, any case not heard in federal court is by default a state issue and can be heard in any state court where at least one party to the case is a resident.

Filing Rules and Procedure

Civil procedure further governs the particulars of how a case is filed including how the documents must read and be organized. For instance, a complaint must specifically list the parties to the case, jurisdictional reasons, as well as the legal claims. Additionally, there are rules regarding the way the complaint is served and how long the other party has to file their answer with the court. The rules also give guidance as to when motions can be filed by the parties in the case to end the case in the filing stage.

Discovery and Pretrial solutions

The rules of civil procedure dictate that after both sides have filed all the complaints, answers, and responses, they can then proceed to request permission for discovery. In this stage, parties are given the court’s permission to search through the property of the other party in an attempt to find valuable information regarding their case. The rules of civil procedure even go so far as to make it illegal for either party to destroy evidence beginning as soon as the complaint is filed. During discovery, the parties will also meet with a judge who may order mediation or arbitration to attempt an early solution to the matter at issue.


The rules of civil procedure naturally govern the trial including jury selection, pretrial motions, and the actual trial. Under the rules of civil procedure, parties can choose between a jury or bench trial. Bench trials save time and money and typically guarantee a more accurate decision. Parties are then permitted to select jurors. When selecting jurors, the rules of civil procedure limit the amount of jurors that the attorneys can dismiss, so that the jury is less likely to be stacked. Finally, the rules of civil procedure work alongside the rules of evidence during the trial to ensure that both parties in the case act with the utmost dignity and decorum.


Once a trial is complete, the rules of civil procedure outline the appeals process. The rules of civil procedure dictate that cases may only be appealed by an injured party and there must be specific evidence of errors on the part of the judge in order for the appeal to even be considered. The rules also dictate the specific time frame where an appeal can be filed and how long the appeals court has to read the appeal and respond to the parties.


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