Glossary of Useful Terms in Civil Cases

Action - A court proceeding when one party prosecutes another for the protection or enforcement of a right, the prevention or correction of a wrong, or the punishment of an offense.

Allegation - A statement by a party in a pleading describing what that party's position is and what that party intends to prove.

Answer - The formal declaration under penalties of perjury in response to a question. Also, it may mean to formally file with the clerk of court a written response to a lawsuit, dispossessory action, etc..

Appeal - A written request to a higher court to modify or reverse the judgment of a trial court or intermediate level appellate court. An appeal begins when the loser at trial files a notice of appeal, which must be done within strict time limits (often 30 days from the date of judgment or 7 days from the date of a landlord tenant action.

Case - A lawsuit or judicial proceeding intended to solve a controversy between parties.

Cause of Action - The facts that make up the theory for a case or lawsuit.

Civil Case - An action brought by a person or party to recover damages or property, to force someone to honor a contract or to protect one's civil rights.

Counterclaim - An independent cause of action, usually by the defendant, that opposes or offsets a previous claim made by the plaintiff.

Cross Examination - At trial, the opportunity to question any witness, including your opponent, who testifies against you. The opportunity to cross-examine usually occurs as soon as a witness completes his/ her direct testimony often the opposing lawyer or party, or sometimes the judge, signals that it is time to begin cross-examination by saying, Your witness.

Damages - An award of money paid by the losing party to the winning party to compensate for losses or injury incurred.

Defendant - The accused in a criminal case or in a civil case, the person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings an action.

Dismissal with Prejudice - The claim may never be asserted against the other party again.

Dismissal without Prejudice - The claim may be reasserted against the other party in the future.

Evidence - Any type of proof that is legally presented at trial through witnesses, records and/or exhibits.

File - To deposit in the official custody of the Clerk of the Court to enter into the files or records of a case.

Filing Fee - Money paid to the court to start a civil action.

Foreclosure - The forced sale of personal property to pay off a loan or other legal obligation connected with the property on which the owner of the property has failed to pay.

Hearing - In the trial court context, a legal proceeding (other than a full-scale trial) held before a judge. During a hearing, evidence and arguments are presented in an effort to resolve a disputed factual or legal issue. Hearings typically, but by no means always, occur prior to trial when a party asks the judge to decide a specific issue--often on an interim basis--such as whether a temporary restraining order.

Impeach - To discredit. To impeach a witness' credibility, for example, is to show that the witness is not believable. A witness may be impeached by showing that he has made statements that are inconsistent with his present testimony, or that he has a reputation for not being a truthful person.

Judgment - A final court ruling resolving the key questions in a lawsuit and determining the rights and obligations of the opposing parties.


  1. The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case.
  2. The geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases.
  3. The territory, subject matter or persons over which lawful authority may be exercised by a court, as determined by constitution or statute, e.g., the Justice Court cannot try cases involving divorce.

Jury - A group of people selected to apply the law, as stated by the judge, to the facts of a case and render a decision, called the verdict.


  1. A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a statement or claim that the defendant failed to perform a legal duty, which resulted in harm to the plaintiff.
  2. A legal dispute brought to a court for resolution.

Liable - Legally responsible. For example, a person may be liable for a debt, liable for an accident due to careless behavior, liable for failing do something required by a contract or liable for the commission of a crime.

Motion - During a lawsuit, a request to the judge for a decision--called an order or ruling--to resolve procedural or other issues that come up during litigation. Some motions are required to be in writing, such a motion for summary judgment. Other motions, such as a motion for a directed verdict, made at the end of one party's side of the case, can be made orally.

Notary Public - A licensed public officer who administers oaths, certifies documents and performs other specified functions. A notary public's signature and seal is required to authenticate the signatures on many legal documents.

Oath - An attestation that one will tell the truth, or a promise to fulfill a pledge. Party B One of the litigants. At the trial level, the parties are typically referred to as the plaintiff or complainant and the defendant or respondent. On appeal, they are known as the appellant and appellee.

Petition - A formal written request made to a court, asking for an order or ruling on a particular matter.

Plaintiff - The party bringing a civil action.

Rebuttal - Evidence given to explain, repel, counteract, or disprove facts given in evidence by the adverse party.

Pro Se - This term denotes a person who represents himself or herself in court.

Settlement - An agreement reached among the parties that resolve the case at any time before court findings.

Subpoena - An official order to attend court at a stated time. The most common use of the subpoena is to require witnesses to court for the purpose of testifying in a trial.

Summons - A notice to the defendant that an action against him or her has been commenced in the court issuing the summons and that a judgment will be taken against him or her if the statement of claim is not answered within a certain time.

Testify - To give evidence under oath as a witness in a judicial proceeding.

Testimony - Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trial.

Witness - A person who testifies under oath at a deposition or trial, providing firsthand or expert evidence. In addition, the term also refers to someone who watches another person sign a document and then adds his name to confirm (called "attesting") that the signature is genuine.

The source of this information may be internal or external to the Gallatin County Justice Court. The Gallatin County Justice Court makes all reasonable efforts to verify this information. However, the information provided in this document is for your information only. The Gallatin County Justice Court makes no explicit or implied claims to the validity of this information.