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What Shall Be Done with the Practice of the Courts?

What Shall Be Done With The Practice Of The Courts?

David Dudley Field, 1847

David Dudley Field was an attorney from a prominent New York family. His brother was Stephen J. Field, a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Field was a leading crusader for the codification movement. He attacked the rules of civil procedure of his time, which were based on English common-law pleading practices. Common-law pleading was an arcane practice filled with traps for the uninitiated that could result in the dismissal of the case on procedural grounds. Field's essay of 1847, "What Shall Be Done with the Practice of the Courts," presented his case for what is now known as code pleading.

As a member of the New York pleading and practice commission, Field prepared a civil procedure code that the legislature adopted in 1848. The code simplified the filing and prosecution of lawsuits. It was a significant improvement over common-law systems of procedure, in that it required that the complaint contain "a plain and concise statement of the facts constituting plaintiff's cause of action." The code used the pleading as a way of narrowing and defining the dispute rather than as a general means of initiating a civil action.

The Field Code was later adopted by Missouri, California, and many other states. In time, however, code pleading became very technical, requiring the pleader to set forth the facts underlying and demonstrating the existence of the cause of action. Matters were simplified in 1938, when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted. Rule 8 (a) provides that the complaint shall contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Likewise, the defendant "shall state in short and plain terms" the defenses to the plaintiff's complaint. There is no requirement that facts be alleged.

In the twentieth century, the desire for codification led to the drafting of various sets of uniform laws, including the Uniform Commercial Code and the Uniform Probate Code.

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