Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Gravamen Definition:

The material part or essence of a charge, grievance or complaint.

Shumaker defined gravamen as follows:

"Gravamen. The grievance complained of; the substantial cause of the action."

In R v Bircham, Judge Kopstein used these words to define gravamen:

"... the substantial grievance or complaint in a sense broader than the strict legal sense."

In Williamson v. Pacific Greyhound Lines, Justice Thompson of the California Court of Appeals adopted these words:

"The gravamen is defined ... as the material part of a grievance, charge, etc."

In Hensler v City of Glendale, Justice Baxter of the Supreme Court of California wrote:

"To determine the statute of limitations which applies to a cause of action it is necessary to identify the nature of the cause of action, i.e., the gravamen of the cause of action."

As an example of judicial consideration, these words of the court being appealed from were favourably referred to by the Newfoundland Supreme Court - Court of Appeal ("no exception may be taken with that assertion's accuracy") ¶74 of Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. (Grand Falls Division) v. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 63:

"The gravamen of a lock-out is a decision by an employer to suspend or alter its operations or employment with a view to inducing its employees to refrain from exercising their rights under the legislation."


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