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Failure to state a claim can be the downfall of those who file a civil suit. When drafting a complaint in Massachusetts, the statement of claim(s) is an essential part of the complaint. Without a viable cause of action, a civil suit will be unable to survive a motion to dismiss based on Rule 12 (b) (6) of the Mass. Rules of Civil Procedure.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines

  • failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (1867) A plaintiff’s not having alleged facts in the complaint sufficient to maintain a claim.  This failure warrants dismissal of the complaint. See Fed. R.Civ. P. 12(b)(6) .
  • cause of action. (15c) A group of operative facts giving rise to one or more bases for suing; a factual situation that entitles one person to obtain a remedy in court from another person; claim [after the crash, Aronson had a cause of action].
  • claim.  An interest or remedy recognized at law; the means by which a person can obtain a privilege, possession, or enjoyment of a right or thing. [claim against the employer for wrongful termination].

In 2012, Sarah Jaramillo of Fordham University made a study of the “Top Reasons for the Dismissal of Pro Se Cases” in an effort to help self-represented litigants avoid common mistakes in the future.  Using data based on the dockets of pro se cases filed in the Southern District of New York and the Western District of Washington, she found that the most common reason that judges dismissed pro se cases was a failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. In the cases that she looked at only 19 of 232 pro se litigants were successful.

A Massachusetts resource that might be of help in drafting a complaint is Civil Causes of Action in Massachusetts, published by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE), available at your local Trial Court Law Library. The book outlines thirty causes of action, “setting forth elements of each along with a highly annotated reference to Massachusetts case law.” Causes of Action and Causes of Action 2d, thirty volume and seventy volume sets respectively, paint a broader picture with articles about many causes of action in a variety of jurisdictions.


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