How to Brief a Case: Tutorial

In almost any litigation, before the complaining party will even be allowed to access the judicial system, a complaint must first be filed with the court alleging the violation of some legally protected right or interest. Within the context of modern tort litigation, this normally requires that the Plaintiff (the complaining party) at the very least specifically identify some legally recognized cause of action (e.g., Battery, Assault, False Imprisonment, Negligence, etc.) for which the claimed legal redress may be obtained. Thus, in Van Camp v. McAfoos, 261 Iowa 1124, 156 N.W.2d 878 (1968), the Plaintiff's cause of action founded vaguely upon some non-specified "tort" could not be sustained and the case was dismissed. Identifying the specific type of action involved in each case can also aid in understanding the court's ultimate disposition of the case, as well as its analysis. For example, in Walker v. Kelly, 6 Conn. Cir. 715, 314 A.2d 785 (1973), even though the case involved a factual "battery," the specific type of action actually brought by the plaintiffs was based upon the defendant's alleged violation of a "parental responsibility" statute (and NOT the common law tort of "Battery"). Thus, knowledge of this one aspectof the case helps explain why the court (construing the specific language of this particular statute) did NOT apply the traditional common law meaning of "intent" to the statutory phrase "intent to cause wilful or malicious injury." Two entirely separate and distinct causes of action were potentially available to the Plaintiffs in the Walker case, and they chose to bring only one claim (i.e., the one based solely upon the statutory cause of action as opposed to the common law tort of "Battery"). The student should ask why the Plaintiffs in the Walker case wanted to do this? The answer to this question, leads invariably to the distinction(s) between a specific statutory cause of action for tort and traditional common law tort actions. Not surprisingly, this very distinction is most helpful in understanding the court's ultimate analysis in the Walker case.

Type of Action Involved in the Case

Edward C. Martin

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Type of Action


Procedural History

Contentions of Parties