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Understanding the Basics of a Civil Action Lawsuit

Understanding the Basics of a Civil Action Lawsuit


Like any court proceeding, a civil action involves two parties: a plaintiff and a defendant.

The plaintiff is the party or person(s) that seek to hold the other party, the defendant responsible for some sort of harmful act or wrongdoing. If the plaintiff is successful in their civil action — such that the court rules that the defendant is liable for legitimate damages — the defendant is then required by law to make restitutions to the plaintiff, usually in the form of monetary compensation. Civil lawsuits aren’t just held between two people for the sake of writing a malicious act, however. A civil case can be brought again business and corporate entities and can be made for damages that resulted from inaction as well as action. They can be brought to a court by anyone, for any reason. This isn’t to say it’s a good idea to make baseless charges; such irresponsible action can lead to countless squandered hours and even more, money wasted.

How does a civil lawsuit work?

In a civil lawsuit, one party (the plaintiff) brings a complaint to the court seeking for another party (the defendant) to be held liable for damages inflicted on the plaintiff by action or inaction on the part of the defendant. These cases are generally done to seek monetary restitution and can involve anything from family legal affairs to corporate contract disputes. 

The Meaning of the term “SUIT

The term ‘suit’ has not been defined in the CPC, 1908. Generally, it is understood as a proceeding that commences upon the presentation of a plaint in a civil court. A plaint is a statement in writing of a cause of action in which the relief claimed is set out in detail. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines a suit as the proceeding initiated by a party or parties against another in a court of law.

Ordinarily, there appears a minute difference between the suits filed under the CPC, 1908 and the other suits filed under various legislative enactments.  The suit filed under CPC, 1908 has a particular format and it is a civil proceeding instituted by presenting a plaint whereas in other suits e.g. matrimonial are generally instituted by the presentation of a petition by either party to the suit.

Provisions regarding the institution of a suit are specified under Section 26 and Orders I, II, IV, VI, and VII.

The basic court procedure for filing a civil suit in India

For filing a civil case or civil lawsuit, there is a detailed process laid down, if the process is not followed, then the registry has a right to dismiss the suit. 

Essentials of a Suit

There are four essentials of a suit which are explained.

  • Parties (order-1):

In a suit, there must be at least two parties i.e. the plaintiff and the defendant. There is no bar as to the maximum number of plaintiffs or defendants. There are two categories of parties viz. necessary party and proper party. The significance of the necessary party in a suit is that the presence of such a party is vital to the constitution of the suit and the relief is sought against such party and without such a party, no effective order can be passed. A proper party is one in whose absence an effective order can be passed, nonetheless whose presence is necessary for a complete and final decision on the question involved in the proceeding.

Filing of Suit/Plaint – Order 6 Rule 1 of the CPC stated “Plaint is the written complaint or allegation”. One who files it is known as “Plaintiff” and against whom it is filed is known as “Defendant”. It contains Name of the Court, Nature of Complaint, Names and Address of parties to be suit, it also contain verification from plaintiff, stating that, contents of the plaint are true and correct

  • Subject Matter

There must be a subject matter i.e. a set of facts which have to be proved to enable the plaintiff to get the relief claimed by him. It includes the course of action. The subject matter can be movable as well as immovable property and the details regarding the same have to be given in the plaint by the plaintiff for a successful filing of his plaint and getting the relief claimed in the plaint.

Vakalatnama– Vakalatnama is a written document, by which the person/party filing the case authorizes the Advocate/Lawyer to represent on their behalf. However, a person/party filing a case May also represent their own case personally in any court and in this case he does not need Vakalatnama. The client will not hold the Advocate responsible for any decision

The client will bear all the costs and/or expenses incurred during the proceedings. The advocate will have the right to retain the documents unless complete fees are paid. The client is free to disengage the Advocate at any stage of the Proceedings. The Advocate shall have all the right to take decisions on his own in the court of Law, during the hearing, in the best interest of the client. 

Types of civil lawsuits 

There are generally four broad types of cases heard by civil courts. Below is a brief overview of each:

Tort claims: The most common type; “tort” refers to a “torturous act” where an act has caused harm to someone’s person, property, reputation, etc

Breach of contract: These cases generally refer to holding a person accountable for their failure to perform some term of a contract to which they were bound, such as not completing a job.

Equitable claims: An equitable claim is when the plaintiff asks the court to order the defendant to take or cease a particular action. 

Landlord-tenant claims: the most self-explanatory, these cases occur when either the landlord or the tenant fails to uphold some section of their lease. This is also where eviction proceedings begin. 

  • Cause of Action (Order II, Rules 3, 6 and 7)

It contains a set of facts or circumstances that the plaintiff is required to prove before he can succeed. It serves as the foundation of the suit. It includes all the essential facts which constitute the right of a plaintiff and its alleged infringement and thus it is an antecedent to the filing or institution of any suit. The facts must be mentioned in clear and unambiguous terms. A person is a party to the suit if there lies a cause of action against him. It is important to note that every plaint must disclose a cause of action or some act done by the defendant else the Court is under a duty to reject such a plaint as per Order 7, Rule 1 

  • The relief claimed by the plaintiff 

Relief is a legal remedy available to the plaintiff for a violation of legal rights by the defendant. No remedy will be granted by a court unless the parties to the complaint request it. There are two types of relief: specific and alternative. Specific relief is governed under the Specific Relief Act, 1963.

Institution of a Suit under CPC, 1908

There are various stages of a suit viz. institution of suit or commencement of suit, service of summons, written statements, first hearing and framing of issues, production of evidence and final hearing, arguments, judgment, preparation of a decree and its execution. The focus of this article is to deal with the first stage i.e. Institution of a suit. The institution of a suit consists of the following steps.

Phases of civil suit

Now that we’ve been over the background of a civil action, let’s dive into the parts of a civil case. Note that the below process is specifically tailored to civil cases and has some differences from litigation as a general whole.

  1. Complaint
  2. Cases sent to court
  3. Discovery of evidence
  4. Attempt at settlement
  5. Trial 
  6. Appeal 

On the  First Hearing

How Proceedings are conducted – On the first day of the hearing, if the court thinks there are merits in the case, it will issue notice to the opposite party, to submit their arguments, and fix a date. When the notice is issued to the opposite party, 

the plaintiff is needed to do the following:

File requisite amount of procedure – fee in the court. File 2 copies of plaint for each defendant in the court. Of, the 2 copies for each defendant, one shall be sent by Register/post/courier, and one by Ordinary post. Such filing should be done within 7 days, from the date of order/notice.

Written Statement –

When the notice has been issued to the respondent, he is required to appear on the date specified in the notice

Before a such date, the respondent is required to record his written statement i.e. his barrier against the claim raised by the offended party, within 30 days from the date of administration of notice, or inside such time as given by the court. The written statement should specifically deny the allegations, which the defendant thinks are false. Any allegation not specifically denied is deemed to be admitted. The written statement should also contain verification from the Defendant, stating that, the contents of the written statement are true and correct The time period of 30 days, for filing a Written Statement, but after seeking permission from the court it can be extended to 90 days

Framing of Issues – 

Issues are framed by the Court and on the basis of “Issues” arguments and examinations of witness takes place. 

Key points

Issues are framed, keeping in view the disputes in the suit, and the parties are not allowed to go outside the purview of “Issues”

Issues may be of Fact or Law

At the time of passing the final order, the court will deal with each issue separately and will pass judgements on each issue

List of witness – 

All witnesses, the parties wish to produce, and to be examined, have to be presented before the court Within 15 days from the date on which issues were framed or within such other period as the court may fix, both the parties to the suit will have file a list of witnesses.

The Examination and Cross– 

Examination of witness is over, and also the admission and denial of documents, then the court will fix a date for the final hearing.

Final Hearing – 

On the final hearing day, the arguments will take place The arguments should strictly be restricted to the issues framed

Before the final Arguments, the parties with the permission of the Court can amend their pleadings. The court may refuse to listen for anything which is not contained in the pleadings. Finally, the court will pass a “final Order“, either on the day of the hearing itself, or some other day which will be fixed by the court.

Certified copy of order– 

It is the final order of the court and has the seal and stamp of the court. It is useful, in case of Appeal or in case of execution of the order. Order 21 holds significance because it deals with the execution of the decrees, and orders passed by the court. The meaning of both decree and order has been discussed previously in this article. Order 21 can be classified into 6 parts as provided hereunder:

  1. Applications for execution and the process to be applied.
  2. Stay of executions.
  3. Mode of executions.
  4. Sale of immovable property and movable property.
  5. Adjudication of the claims and objections.
  6. Resistance and delivery of possession

Difference between a civil and criminal lawsuit

A civil case, as was discussed above, can be levelled by anyone against any other member of society, be they an individual person or a corporate entity. Generally speaking, this is done to seek monetary compensation and formal statements of apology and wrongdoing, not time behind bars. 

A criminal lawsuit has to be brought before the court through a formal accusation known as an indictment. In this instance, the case is handled by the government and not by the victim,  as would be required in a civil case. The philosophy behind this is that it is the government’s responsibility to prosecute criminal offense on behalf of the people. Finally, the sentences for criminal cases tend to be much more severe and can include prison time or community supervision (such as parole) in addition to monetary fines. 

Yelchuri Ranganayakalu Chetty vs K. Gopala Chetty on 3 October, 1952

Basically, in this case, it was observed that the court will decide whether the matter is civil or criminal after the examination of the fact issue or allegations by one party to another. Police will start an investigation and submit a report to the magistrate. On the basis of the given documents, we can’t pronounce the suit as civil or criminal. 


The journey of a suit from the filing of plaint to its institution in the court is dependent on numerous factors. All these conditions are provided in the CPC,1908 in a proper procedural framework. Such procedural formalities point out to the exclusivity of CPC, 1908 and due to these, delays are caused in both institution of a suit and passing of a decree in civil suits. The legislators certainly realised this and therefore, there is a provision in CPC, 1908 under Section 89 which provides for the settlement of certain disputes outside the Court through conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement including settlement through Lok Adalat and mediation. Also, under Order XXXVII there is a provision for Summary Suits which provide quick and efficacious relief. This has certainly led to settlement of disputes through Courts as well as Alternate Dispute Resolution Mechanism which is currently in vogue in India.

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