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Pleadings Page: What is Filed in a Court Case?

While attorneys and other legal professional are aware of what it takes to file a lawsuit, many non-lawyers may be surprised by the number of documents filed with a court for just one case. In fact, to simply bring a lawsuit, a party must first file a complaint and then often an amended complaint. But that complaint is often just the first step in a long list.

For purposes of this website, we have termed these documents filed with a court "pleadings." The "pleadings" are those documents filed by either party in a lawsuit before, during, or after trial. These documents include complaints, motions, memoranda of law, briefs, and opinions. We have created a collection of pleadings from various lawsuits on a variety of topics including:

How does a lawsuit get started? Generally speaking, a plaintiff (the party bringing the civil lawsuit) files a complaint that sets forth a claim(s) for relief by alleging the wrongdoings by defendant and outlines the claimed damages. Damages are the money compensation sought by the plaintiff for the loss to his or her person, property, or rights. Motions, written or oral applications submitted to the court to obtain a rule of law or introduction of evidence, are then submitted by either party to be decided by the court. Following motions and trials, courts issue opinions and orders that determine the legal and sometimes factual issues of a case. After trial, the party who disagrees with the court's decision is usually allowed to file an appeal that contests the decision of the court. For a more detailed introduction on the functioning of the federal and state court systems, please click here to see How Does our Court System Work by Karstan Lovorn.

We now have two ways to search for pleading materials from various cases.  You may search by looking up the case name (alphabetical by plaintiff) by clicking on Table of Pleadings by case name. Alternatively, you may use the pull-down menu below under Search by Issue Topic. Here you will find the pleadings listed by a variety of legal topics.



Many have heard of recent animal-related cases in the news. Below is a table of pleading documents from some well-publicized criminal cases:


 Case Name Topic   Issue
 U.S. v. Stevens  Depictions of Animal Cruelty ("crush videos")  

Whether the prosecution of an individual filmmaker under 18 U.S.C. § 48 violates the First Amendment, facially or as applied, where the statute broadly criminalizes depictions of “animal cruelty,” as defined by any one of more than fifty different laws, unless the images have “serious” value.

 U.S. v. Michael Vick  Dog/Animal Fighting Conspiracy  NFL quarterback Michael Vick was convicted of both federal and state charges related to running a dogfighting operation in 2008.


We need the help of practicing attorneys to provide us with the materials to post in this section of the Web Center. If you have an animal related case that you think others might be interested in viewing the pleadings /briefs /jury charges, please contact us.


Thanks to the Animal Legal Defense Fund who has provided many of the documents included in this section as well as the funding to allow the development of this topic.