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Chronology of a Civil Action
  1. One party decides to sue another party for an injury.
  2. The Attorney determines if the injury is one that can be remedied in court (not all injuries have legal remedies) and then counsel his client on the strength of the suit.
  3. The plaintiff must determine where to bring the action, and do to this the court must have jurisdiction. The court must have both:
    • Subject-Matter Jurisdiction – Unlike Personal Jurisdiction, this can never be waived by the defendant.
      • State Trial Courts enjoy general subject-matter jurisdiction.
      • Federal District Courts have been limited by Congress and the Constitution and as such the Plaintiff must show that the subject matter of the case is within the competency of the court. Typically, there are two basic kinds of controversies they have subject matter jurisdiction over.
        • Diversity of Citizen Jurisdiction – Actions involving citizens of different states. There must be complete diversity, no plaintiff can be from the same state as the defendant. Also, the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000. Even if Federal Courts have Diversity of Citizen jurisdiction, the state courts can also hear the case because it is not exclusive. However, the defendant can elect not to go to trial in the plaintiff’s home state (to try to avoid prejudice) and move the action to Federal Courts.
        • Federal Question Jurisdiction – Actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. In order to bring action under these grounds, the subject matter of the action must be such that either “federal law creates the cause of the action or that the plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on the resolution of a substantial question of federal law.”
    • Personal Jurisdiction – Jurisdiction over the Defendant. The defendant must reside or be found in the state in which the court sites, be subject to the “long arm” jurisdiction of the state in which the court sits, or the defendant must voluntarily consent to the jurisdiction of the court.
  4. Commencing the Action – The plaintiff must serve the defendant with a summons and complaint.
  5. Motion to Dismiss (Pre-answer) – Sometimes called a demurrer. Before serving an answer the defendant can make a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that there is no legal rule that entitles the plaintiff to relief. The plaintiff must be able to articulate a legal theory to support his claim in order to deny the motion to dismiss.
  6. Discovery Phase – Testimony and factual evidence is collected.
  7. Motion for Summary Judgment – This can be made anytime before the eve of trial. The movant (the party seeking an order from the court) asks the court to decide the case without a trial based upon the combination of law and facts revealed during the discovery phase, in the form of sworn affidavits, documents, or deposition transcripts procured during discovery. The judge will only grant a motion if the evidence is convincing enough to persuade the judge that a trial would generate no additional facts that would aid in the decision.
  8. Motion for a Judgment as a Matter of Law (A Directed Verdict) – Can be done any time before the case is submitted to a jury. The movant tries to persuade the judge that a reasonable jury could not decide the case in any other way but in favor of the movant.
  9. Trial
  10. Renewed Motion for a Judgment as a Matter of Law (A Judgement Notwithstanding the Verdict or “JNOV”) – Made post trial immediately after the jury has rendered its verdict. To be eligible to request such relief, the movant must have first made a motion for a directed verdict before the case was given to the jury. The Movant seeks to have the judge set the jury verdict aside and render a judgment in its favor.
  11. Motion for a New Trial – The movant, in an attempt to cure a legal error that occurred during the trial, seeks to have an entirely new trial. Federal Rule 61: a new trial may not be granted “unless refusal to take such action appears to the court inconsistent with substantial justice.” This is often due to erroneous statements of law in the instructions to a jury, misconduct during the trial by a party or by an attorney, or the court erred by admitting or excluding a piece of evidence.

For those of you wondering, this is taken from the outline I'm writing for law preview for 1L's.

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