By: Robert Murdoch
In the last post we discussed where to find the rules and pointed out that while the language of a particular rule might appear simple and straightforward, that might not always be the case.
If there is one thing that you must understand in representing yourself is that there is usually more to an issue or question than initially meets the eye. To appreciate this concept one need only look to the Internal Revenue Code. More specifically look at §1 which simply declares that a tax shall be imposed upon taxable income at certain rates. Simple right? Of course it’s not. If it were simple there would not be 70,000+ pages in the internal revenue code and regulations.
And so it is with many rules. One or two sentences can be the source of hundreds or even thousands of pages of opinions written by appellate judges.
So what does this mean to you?
It means that if you are relying on a rule, or trying to be sure that you are complying with one, you must do additional research to be sure that you fully understand what the rule means. To illustrate, let’s continue with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Here it is again for the sake of clarity:
Rule 8. General Rules of Pleading
(a) Claim for Relief. A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:
(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support;
(2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and
(3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief….
There is more to the rule, but this part is enough for what we are talking about right now, the part to focus on is (2). One sentence – 16 words. No big deal right?
The issue is how the courts have addressed words “showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”. This question has been churned around it the courts for decades, and per the current decisions requires much more than you would expect. Current court decisions taken together require that a complaint include such facts such as if true, would entitle the pleader to the relief requested. Now the problem should be clear. Where in Rule 8 does it say that?
That’s right – it doesn’t!
Like so much of the law in the Unites States you can’t just read a statute or a rule and stop. You must research appellate court decisions that have dealt with the statute or rule. Only then will you have a complete picture of what you must do (or not do) and why.
How do you find this?
Fortunately, the internet gives you research tools and capabilities that simply were not available forty years ago. All you need to do is access to court cases (Westlaw, Lexis, Fastcase or even Google Scholar). Do a search on a rule and you will be presented with all the relevant decisions related to it
So to sum up:
If you want to represent yourself in court – you must know the rules.
You can find them online.
In addition to federal or state rules there may be local rules for a specific court. Those can usually be found on your court’s website.
Reading the rules is not enough – you must research appellate decisions concerning them.