Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) is a set of rules laying out the specific procedures to be followed for civil lawsuits within the United States federal court system. The specific rules under the FRCP are established and modified by the U.S. Supreme Court, and approved by Congress. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are found in title 28 of the U.S. Code. To explore this concept, consider the following Federal Rules of Civil Procedure definition.

Definition of Civil Procedure


  1. The procedures, practices, and methods that govern civil legal cases.

History of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Throughout the early history of the U.S. judicial system, the rules in federal court differed widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and were generally much less complex in the Western United States than in the Eastern United States. To further muddy the waters, federal civil cases were determined “at law,” meaning the court could only order monetary damages, or the possession of certain personal property. This differs from lawsuits determined “in equity,” in which the court may order specific performance or an injunction.

In 1934, Congress took steps to minimize confusion and complexity in federal civil procedure, by creating the Federal Rules Enabling Act, which gave power to the U.S. Supreme Court to make new rules and procedures for all federal courts. An appointed advisory committee made recommendations to the Supreme Court in 1938. Those rules enacted by the Court were sent to Congress for approval. The new set of rules simplified such issues as discovery procedures, pleading requirements, and the use of pretrial conferences to define issues to be tried. Other issues addressed included the procedures for joining multiple parties and claims to a federal lawsuit, and the merging of legal and equitable claims to be held to the same set of rules.

Judicial Conference of the United States

Following the creation of this first set of uniform rules, both the Supreme Court and Congress recognized the need for them to be continually assessed and adjusted to ensure they met the current needs of the people. To that end, Congress created the Judicial Conference of the United States to continually study the FRCP and suggest amendments and updates when needed. Since that time, amendments to the FRCP have been enacted on a regular basis.

In 2007, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were rewritten completely for the sole purpose of making them easier to read and understand. These changes in style, tendered by a committee headed by law professor and editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, Bryan A Garner, were not changes to the rules themselves, but were made for the purpose of readability. In 2009, a number of amendments to the actual rules were made, primarily affecting Rule 6, changing how certain deadlines are calculated and other timing requirements.

Loosened Formality with Notice Pleading

Prior to the creation of the FRCP in 1938, the U.S. legal system worked on a common law “code pleading” form in which a person filing a lawsuit or other legal action faced the potential of having the suit dismissed with prejudice if it failed to mention certain key legal words. With the goal of not only creating a united system of civil process, but relaxing the strict rules that apply to the code pleading format, the FRCP instituted a system of “notice pleading.”

The system of notice pleading requires only that the legal claim itself be legally actionable, stressing that the parties be given “notice” of grievances, leaving the exact details to be dealt with as the case goes on. This relaxed approach allows the justice system to concentrate on the law as it applies to each case, rather than on whether the parties use the correct wording in their pleadings.

Modern Code Pleading

Each state has its own rules of civil procedure, most modeled closely after the FRCP. However, some states, such as California, have instituted a more modern system of code pleading which sits somewhere between the old system of common law code pleading and notice pleading. This system requires a plaintiff to state the “ultimate facts” of his case, setting out all of the facts or allegations, the laws under which he feels entitled to relief, and what relief he is seeking. By contrast, notice pleading only requires the plaintiff make a “short and plain statement” illustrating that he is entitled to some relief under the law.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Specific Performance – A court order requiring a party to a lawsuit to perform a specific act stated in a contract.
  • Injunction – A court order preventing an individual or entity from beginning or continuing an action.
  • With Prejudice – A dismissal of a lawsuit or other legal action by the court which bars the plaintiff from filing another suit based on the same grounds.
  • Ultimate Facts – A conclusion of facts determined from evidence presented.
  • Short and Plain Statement – A brief statement that clearly states why the pleader is entitled to relief under the law.