Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8

Go To Essential Points

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.


(1) In General. In responding to a pleading, a party must:

(A) state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it; and

(B) admit or deny the allegations asserted against it by an opposing party.

(2) Denials—Responding to the Substance. A denial must fairly respond to the substance of the allegation.

(3) General and Specific Denials. A party that intends in good faith to deny all the allegations of a pleading—including the jurisdictional grounds—may do so by a general denial. A party

that does not intend to deny all the allegations must either specifically deny designated allegations or generally deny all except those specifically admitted.

(4) Denying Part of an Allegation. A party that intends in good faith to deny only part of an allegation must admit the part that is true and deny the rest.

(5) Lacking Knowledge or Information. A party that lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of an allegation must so state, and the statement has the effect of a denial.

(6) Effect of Failing to Deny. An allegation—other than one relating to the amount of damages—is admitted if a responsive pleading is required and the allegation is not denied. If a responsive pleading is not required, an allegation is considered denied or avoided.


(1) In General. In responding to a pleading, a party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense, including:

• accord and satisfaction;

arbitration and award;

• assumption of risk;

• contributory negligence;

• duress;


• failure of consideration;


• illegality;

• injury by fellow servant;

• laches;

• license;

• payment;

• release;

• res judicata;

statute of frauds;

• statute of limitations; and

• waiver.

(2) Mistaken Designation. If a party mistakenly designates a defense as a counterclaim, or a counterclaim as a defense, the court must, if justice requires, treat the pleading as though it were correctly designated, and may impose terms for doing so.


(1) In General. Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. No technical form is required.

(2) Alternative Statements of a Claim or Defense. A party may set out 2 or more statements of a claim or defense alternatively or hypothetically, either in a single count or defense or in separate ones. If a party makes alternative statements, the pleading is sufficient if any one of them is sufficient.

(3) Inconsistent Claims or Defenses. A party may state as many separate claims or defenses as it has, regardless of consist ency.

(e) CONSTRUING PLEADINGS. Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.

Essential Points

  • The big idea behind Rule 8 is that the federal rules were intended to make it easy for parties to present their claims and for the claims to be decided on their merits.  Rule 1 and Rule 2 created one form of action and tell us that the Rules were designed for just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of disputes.
  • The Rules responded to a widespread perception that civil litigation favored gamesmanship and hypertechnical pleading requirements.  Rule 8 is consistent with this purpose because it abolishes technical pleading requirements in favor of liberal pleading requirements.
  • Rule 8 requires that a Complaint include: (i) a short and plain statement showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief; (ii) a short and plain statement of subject matter jurisdiction; and (iii) a demand for relief.

Liberal Pleading Requirements

  • Rule 8(a) establishes pleading requirements for claims in federal court.  The pleading requirements are not strict.  Note that the first requirement is just a “short and plain” statement showing that the party is entitled to relief.  Read that along with Rule 8(e) which requires courts to construe pleadings “so as to do justice.”  Our general theme here is that technical mistakes shouldn’t deprive someone of his day in court.  Pleadings should also contain a short and plain statement of subject matter jurisdiction and a demand for relief (e.g., money, injunctive relief, or both).
  • In fact, if a complaint is much longer than needed, it can be dismissed.  The plaintiff will have to shorten the complaint.
  • For decades, the key case on how much detail a complaint needed was Conley v. Gibson.  In that case the Supreme Court stated unless there were “no set of facts” that could emerge that would enable the plaintiff to win his case, then the Complaint should not be dismissed.  This standard required very little detail whatsoever.  In two more recent cases, Bell Atlantic v. Twombly  and Ashcroft v. Iqbal  the Supreme Court stated that a Complaint must have enough detail showing that it is at least plausible that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. The Court stated that it would not be enough for a plaintiff to simply recite the elements of a claim.   This means that it should not be enough for a plaintiff to simply state that a defendant was negligent.  Instead, the Complaint must have enough detail for a court to conclude that it is at least plausible to believe that the plaintiff will prove that the defendant was negligent.    Below is an older video on pleading requirements in federal court.  I’ll be updating it.

What is notice pleading?

Notice pleading means a complaint only needs to provide enough information so that the defendant knows why he is being sued. Notice pleading is considered the easiest possible standard for plaintiffs to meet. Some states only require notice pleading. The federal courts apply a more rigorous standard.

Is notice pleading the standard for Complaints in federal court?

No. Complaints must meet the somewhat more rigorous standard of Rule 8 as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The Complaint must contain enough facts to show that the plaintiff is plausibly entitled to the relief that she seeks.

What is subject matter jurisdiction?

Subject matter jurisdiction means the power of a court to hear a case. Federal courts cannot hear every type of case. Congress empowered federal courts to hear cases that arise from parties in different states (diversity jurisdiction) and cases that arise under federal law (federal question jurisdiction).


Responding to allegations

  • In responding to a complaint or a counterclaim a party will file and serve an Answer and any Affirmative Defenses.  In the Answer a party will admit or deny the allegations in each paragraph of the Complaint.
  • If a party fails to respond to an allegation then the allegation is admitted.

Inconsistencies are permitted

  • Rule 8(d) allows parties to raise inconsistent and alternative claims and defenses.
  • For example, if a defendant is alleged to have breached a loan agreement  he can raise as defenses that (i) he never borrowed the money; and (ii) he paid back the money.  Although (i) & (ii)  are unlikely to both be true, Rule 8 permits this inconsistency.
  • Likewise, a plaintiff can argue that a defendant defrauded him by (i) sending him false and misleading documents and in the alternative (ii) that the defendant failed send to the same documents as promised.

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