"Action," "Proceeding," "Cause of Action," and "Case" Distinguished


Judicial remedies in California civil cases are divided into actions and special proceedings [Code Civ. Proc. § 21]. An action is an ordinary proceeding in a court of justice by which one party prosecutes another for the declaration, enforcement, or protection of a right or for a redress or prevention of a wrong [Code Civ. Proc. §§ 22, 30]. Every other remedy is a special proceeding [Code Civ. Proc. § 23]. A number of special proceedings are covered in Part Three of the Code of Civil Procedure. Code Civ. Proc. § 396, governing the transfer of an action or proceeding from a court lacking subject matter jurisdiction, applies by its own terms to appeals or petitions filed in the superior court over which the superior court lacks jurisdiction but over which a court of appeal or the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction [Code Civ. Proc. § 396(b)].

JustLegalPhrase.jpgThe term "action," however, is not limited to the complaint but refers to the entire judicial proceeding at least through judgment, and is generally considered synonymous with "suit" [Nassif v. Municipal Court (1989) 214 Cal. App. 3d 1294, 1298, 263 Cal. Rptr. 195] . Moreover, "action" is not the same as "cause of action." Whereas "action" refers to the judicial remedy to enforce an obligation, "cause of action" refers to the obligation itself [Nassif v. Municipal Court (1989) 214 Cal. App. 3d 1294, 1298, 263 Cal. Rptr. 195] .

The term "case" is a word of larger import and is not synonymous with the term "action" or "cause of action." Rather, the word "case" applies whenever two or more causes of action (as opposed to counts) are prosecuted together, for example, when both a complaint and a cross complaint have been filed or when two or more plaintiffs join in a case but each has his or her own cause of action. The term also applies when a single plaintiff prosecutes a cause of action against two or more defendants in which several judgments will be entered, as, for example, in an action against a principal and his or her surety [see Emery v. Pacific Employers Ins. Co. (1937) 8 Cal. 2d 663, 665-666, 67 P.2d 1046 (disapproved on another point in Barrera v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co. (1969) 71 Cal. 2d 659, 679, 79 Cal. Rptr. 106, 456 P.2d 674 )].

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