Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Action Definition:

A formal demand to a court of law and of justice to resolve a dispute.

As the United States Court of Apeals wrote in SEC v McCarthy:

"[A]n action is the formal and ordinary means by which a parties seek legal and/or equitable relief before a court of law through the filing of a formal complaint, triggering the full array of legal, procedural and evidentiary rules governing the process by which a court adjudicates the merits of a dispute."

Similarly, the Alberta Court of Appeal in Royal Canadian Legion:

"[A]n action is a civil proceeding to be held before a court of law."

In Tabar, Justice Finlayson defined an action as:

"... the unilateral implementation of a dispute resolution mechanism in accordance with prescribed rules."

Halsbury's Laws of England uses these words:

"Action means any civil proceedings commenced by writ or in any other manner prescribed by rules of court. It has a wide signification as including any method prescribed by those rules of invoking the court's jurisdiction for the adjudication or determination of a lis or legal right or claim or any justiciable issue, question or contest arising between two or more persons or affecting the status of one of them. In its natural meaning action refers to any proceeding in the nature of a litigation between a plaintiff and a defendant. It includes any civil proceedings in which there is a plaintiff who sues, and a defendant who is sued, in respect of some cause of action...."


  • Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th ed., vol. 37, para. 17, p. 24
  • Royal Canadian Legion Norwood (Alberta) Branch 178 v. Edmonton, 16 Alta. L.R. (3d) 305, 149 A.R. 25, 63 W.A.C. 25, [1994] 5 W.W.R. 39, 111 D.L.R. (4th) 141
  • Securities and Exchange Commission v McCarthy, 322 F. 3d 650 (2003)
  • Tabar v. Scott, (aka West End Construction Ltd. v. Ontario Human Rights Commission), 62 D.L.R. (4th) 329 (1989, ONCA),

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