personal action – brought against a person (“in personam”) for recovery of debt, damages, or personal property relating to any type of breach of contract or tort; must be brought by the person injured, not his representative

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


personal action:

1. An action brought for the recovery of debts, personal property, or damages arising from any cause. — aka remedial action. [1]

1. Action brought for the specific recovery of goods and chattels, or for damages or other redress for breach of contract or other injuries, of whatever description, the specific recovery of lands, tenements, and hereditaments only excepts.  1 Am J2d Actions § 38[2]

1. An action for the recovery of goods or chattels, or for damages for breach of contract or personal injury, as opposed to an action involving rights to real property.

2. An action that must be brought by the person injured or damaged, rather than by his personal representative. [3]

     Excerpt from Benjamin J. Shipman’s Handbook of Common-Law Pleading (Henry Winthrop Ballantine ed., 3d ed.1923):

     “Personal actions are subdivided into those brought for the recovery of a debt or of damages for the breach of a contract, or for tort, for some injury to the person or to relative rights or to personal or real property.  The most common of these actions are debt, covenant, assumpsit, detinue, trespass, trespass on the case, trover, and replevin. [4]

2. See action in personam. [1]

action in personam:

I. An action brought against a person rather than property.  *  An in personam judgment is binding on the judgment-debtor and can be enforced against all the property of the judgment-debtor.

2. An action in which the named defendant is a natural or legal person. — aka personal action; (in Roman and civil law) actio in personam; actio personalis

in personam:
[Latin “against a person”]

l. Involving or determining the personal rights and obligations of the parties.

2. Civil procedure. (Of a legal action) brought against a person rather than property. — aka personal.  See action in personam under ACTION (4). Cf. IN REM. — in personam, adv. [1]

     Excerpt from R.H. Graveson’s Conflict of Laws (7th ed. 1974):

     “An action is said to be in personam when its object is to determine the rights and interests of the parties themselves in the subject-matter of the action, however the action may arise, and the effect of a judgment in such an action is merely to bind the parties to it. A normal action brought by one person against another for breach of contract is a common example of an action in personam. [5]

Types of Personal Actions:

action ex contractu – a personal action arising out of a contract.

action ex delicto – a personal action arising out of a tort.


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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]: Benjamin J. Shipman, Handbook of Common-Law Pleading § 34, at 65 (Henry Winthrop Ballantine ed., 3d ed.1923L

[5]: R.H. Graveson, Conflict of Laws 98 (7th ed. 1974).


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