lawsuit (“suit”) – a broader term than “action” for a judicial proceeding of a civil kind, in pursuit of a legal or equitable remedy

     This page is continued from Civil Law Self-Help >>>> Section 5: Commence a Civil Action >>>> Types of Actions:



1. Any proceeding by a party or parties against another in a court of law; CASE (1). — aka lawsuit; suit at law. [1]

1. An action; a legal proceeding of a civil kind. Re Oliver, 77 Ohio St 474, 83 NE 795.

Any proceeding in a court of justice by which a person pursues therein that remedy which the law affords him. Upshur County v Rich, 135 US 467, 34 L Ed 196, 10 S Ct 651.

A term broader than “action,” since it is inclusive of all judicial proceedings whether actions or not. 1 Am J2d Actions § 4.

Not inclusive of a proceeding in continuation of an original action, such as a proceeding for modification of a decree. Anno: 143 ALR 414.

Not inclusive of a criminal prosecution. Anno: 4O ALR2d 1397.

Inclusive of a criminal prosecution, since an indictment or information is an accusation at the “suit” of the sovereign. United States v Moore (CC NH) 11 F 248, 251.

     “It must be conceded that the word, as applied to legal controversies, both by the legal profession and others, is now used and recognized as a generic term of broad significance, often understood and used, even by legislatures and courts, to designate almost any proceeding in a court, even, though rarely, being applied to a criminal prosecution in certain connections.Patterson v Standard Acci. Ins. Co. 178 Mich 288, 144-NW 491.

Historically, “action” is more properly applied to a legal remedy only, whereas “suit” is more properly applied to an equitable remedy only, but this distinction is no longer regarded as important. 1 Am J2d Actions § 4.

To do suit was a feudal service of the tenant to .follow the lord in his courts in time of peace and in his armies or warlike retinue in time of warfare. See 2 Bl Comm 54.

    For particular suits, see definitions commencing actio; action. [2]

1. A lawsuit; an action, either an action at law or an equitable action, but, as the term is generally used, not a criminal prosecution.  See also legal action. [3]

suit at law:

1. A suit conducted according to the common law or equity, as distinguished from statutory provisions.  *  Under the current rules of practice in federal and most state courts, the term civil action embraces an action both at law and in equity. Fed. R. Civ. P. 2

     Excerpt from Bryan A. Garner’s Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (3d ed. 2011):

     “All these nouns [suit, lawsuit, action, case, and cause] denote proceedings instituted for the purpose of enforcing a right or otherwise seeking justice.  Although they are all in frequent use as synonyms for a court proceeding, their etymological development has lent them shades of meaning that they still faintly bear.
     Suit stresses the sense of campaign — originally a lover’s persistent efforts to win love as a suitor but now a complainant’s attempt to redress a wrong, enforce a right, or compel application of a rule.  Suit is historically most closely associated with proceedings in equity <suit in equity>.  In the legal sense, suit refers to an ongoing dispute at any stage, from the initial filing to the ultimate resolution.
      Lawsuit more clearly implies courtroom proceedings before a judge, as opposed to a dispute before some other type of tribunal.
      Action is close to suit and lawsuit <action on the case>, but historically action was closely tied to legal as opposed to equitable proceedings.  Because action denotes a mode of proceeding in court not just to enforce a private right or to redress or prevent a private wrong, but also to punish a public offense, it is possible to speak of criminal actions.  When the jurisdictional distinction between law and equity existed, an action ended at judgment, but a suit in equity ended after judgment and execution.  Today, since virtually all jurisdictions have merged the administration of law and equity, the terms action and suit are interchangeable. . . . Case can apply either to the entire proceedings <the case has been pending for 19 months> or to the merits of the action from either side’s point of view <the plaintiff has a good case> <the defendant has a good case>.
Cause, a legalism, emphasizes the merits of the action from the plaintiff’s point of view, especially with the connotation of seeking justice <the ex-employee’s cause for wrongful discharge>. . . . Although cause and action are nearly synonymous, the legal idioms in which the phrases are used differ.  So an action or suit is said to be ‘commenced,’ but a cause is not.  Similarly, a cause but not an action is said to be ‘tried.’  The distinction between the words is subtle: broadly, action connotes legal procedure and cause denotes the merits of the dispute (again, from the plaintiff ’s vantage).
      The first edition of Black’s Law Dictionary noted the differentiation between case and cause, although if it does exist at all it is little heeded: ‘case is of a more limited signification, importing a collection of facts, with the conclusion of law thereon,’ whereas ‘cause imports a judicial proceeding entire, and is nearly synonymous with lis in Latin, or suit in English.’


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 862-63 (3d ed. 2011) (citations omitted).



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