1. A judicial proceeding, either in law or in equity, to obtain relief at the hands of a court.
A judicial remedy for the enforcement or protection of a right, or a legal proceeding in which a plaintiff claims against a defendant or fund the enforcement of some obligation toward the plaintiff which is binding upon the defendant or the fund.
A prosecution in a court by one party against another party for the enforcement or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense, without regard to the particular form of the procedure. 1 Am J2d Actions §4.
The term is inclusive of cause of action or right of action, as well as a pending action, in a statute providing for the survival of an action. 1 Am J2d, Abat & R § 1.
In several jurisdictions, for example, New York, an action, which is commenced by the service of summons, is distinct under statute from a proceeding which is commenced by petition and notice. In some jurisdictions it is expressly provided by statute that the word “action,” as used in the statute of limitations, shall include a special proceeding of a civil nature. 34 Am J1st Lim Ac § 112.
A distinction has been drawn between the word “action,” as importing the right or power to enforce an obligation, and the word “suit” which imports the pursuit of the remedy by which the right is enforced. 1 Am J2d Actions § 4.
The word “action” standing alone might reasonably be held not to include a criminal prosecution, but when the word “proceeding” is added, a combination is presented which is well near inclusive of all forms of litigation. United States v P. F. Collier & Son Corp. (CA7 Ind) 208 F2d 936, 40 ALR2d 1389.
The view has been taken that where the reference in a statute concerning corporate existence following dissolution is for the purpose of permitting “suits” or “actions” to be instituted or maintained against the dissolved corporation, such words are to be construed as applying only to civil litigation and not to criminal prosecutions. Anno: 40 ALR2d 1397.
2. The act of doing something. 
Excerpt from Morris M. Estee’s Estee’s Pleadings, Practice, and Forms (Carter P. Pomeroy ed., 3d ed. 1885):
“An action has been defined to be an ordinary proceeding in a court of justice, by which one party prosecutes another party for the enforcement or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense. But in some sense this definition is equally applicable to special proceedings. More accurately, it is defined to be any judicial proceeding, which, if conducted to a determination, will result in a judgment or decree. The action is said to terminate at judgment.” 
Excerpt from Edwin E. Bryant’s The Law of Pleading Under the Codes of Civil Procedure (2d ed. 1399):
“The terms ‘action’ and ‘suit’ are nearly if not quite synonymous. But lawyers usually speak of proceedings in courts of law as ‘actions,’ and of those in courts of equity as ‘suits.’ In olden time there was a more marked distinction, for an action was considered as terminating when judgment was rendered, the execution forming no part of it. A suit, on the other hand, included the execution. The word ‘suit,’ as used in the Judiciary Act of 1784 and later Federal statutes, applies to any proceeding in a court of justice in which the plaintiff pursues in such court the remedy which the law affords him.” 
UCC § 1-201(b)(1) defines “action” as:
“‘Action’ in the sense of a judicial proceeding includes recoupment, counterclaim, set-off, suit in equity, and any other proceeding in which rights are determined.” 
The 11 Historical Common-Law
Forms of Action:
Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.
: 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
: 1 Morris M. Estee, Estee’s Pleadings, Practice, and Forms 5 3, at 1 (Carter P. Pomeroy ed., 3d ed. 1885).
: Edwin E. Bryant, The Law of Pleading Under the Codes of Civil Procedure 3 (2d ed. 1399).
: UCC § 1-201(b)(1)
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