Glossary of Legal Terms and Abbreviations
Select the first letter of the word from the list above to "jump" to appropriate section of the glossary.
If you do not find a word here, try one of the following.
- A -
Abandon: to leave with no intention to return.
Absolute Divorce: the final ending of a marriage. Both parties are legally free to remarry. See also Limited Divorce.
Ab Ignition: Latin for "from the beginning."
Action: a lawsuit or proceeding in a court of law.
Act: a law passed by a legislative body; also called a statute
Administrator: a person appointed by the court to pay the debts of a deceased person and distribute the remaining property according to law.
Annotation: this refers to published comment on the law. For example, you will find these comments in the same books that contain the actual statutes (laws). Cases, statutes, and regulations are often annotated. An annotation may provide you with historical data, case excerpts, cross-references or cites to law journal articles.
Answer: the written response to a complaint, petition, or motion.
Alimony: a payment of support provided by one spouse to the other.
Alias Summons: another summons when the original is not served on the defendant.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): ADR is the general term that refers to
several methods of settling a legal dispute
outside of official court proceedings.
Examples are mediation, arbitration,
settlement and informal dispute settlement
Alternative Dispute Resolution: One type of alternative dispute resolution. There are two types - binding and non-binding. During arbitration, the parties present their views and offer evidence to a neutral (or impartial) person or panel. The arbitrator(s) decide what is a fair outcome in the dispute and make a decision. The outcome may be a "win-win" or it may be a "win-lose" solution. Sometimes the parties agree in advance that the decision of the arbitrator is legally "binding". This means that the parties agree that the decision by the arbitrator(s) will be final. In other words, the parties agree not to appeal the decision to a court. If the decision was "binding", the courts will usually refuse to allow an appeal to be filed. Non-binding arbitration is also called "informal dispute settlement".
Assignment: a transfer to another of all or part of one's property, interests, or rights.
Attachment: placing defendant's property in custody of the law before final determination of the lawsuit.
Attachment of Real Estate: A method of collecting the judgment by which the defendant' s real estate is seized. It may then be ordered sold, with the net proceeds used to pay the plaintiff.
- B -
Bona fide: in good faith, genuine, without fraud.
Bill: a proposed statute, i.e. one that has not yet been enacted into law.
Binding Arbitration: See Arbitration
Brief: written argument presented to a court for the purpose of informing and persuading.
Case: a dispute which has been taken to court; a lawsuit.
Case Law: decisions of federal and state courts about how laws should be applied in specific fact situations. Opinions are reported in various volumes.
Cause of Action: a point of controversy; basis of a legal action.
Certiorari: a writ issued by a superior to an inferior court, etc. requiring the return of the record and proceedings for review.
Certified: A copy is "certified" when the keeper of the records puts a stamp or seal on the copy and "certifies" that it is identical to the original.
Charter: the fundamental law of a municipality or other local government; analogous to a constitution.
Child: A person under the age of eighteen (18).
Child Support Guidelines: Maryland has child support guidelines which must be followed in awarding child support. The guidelines include a formula for calculating support based on the number of children in the family, and the combined gross income of the adults.
Cina "Child in Need of Assistance." If Child Protective Services receives a report that a child is in need of assistance, then the agency will conduct a report to determine if the child has been abused or neglected.
Citation: a reference to a particular authority for a point of law. For example, a citation of case includes the title, volume, and page of the report in which the opinion appears
Civil action: a legal proceeding in which one person (plaintiff) sues another (defendant) who has caused him injury or loss. The plaintiff seeks compensation from the defendant for his loss.
Code: laws in force in a particular jurisdiction. They are rewritten and arranged in subject order. It should be noted the words "code", "revision", and "consolidation" are frequently used interchangeably to mean the same thing.
Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.):
contains regulations made by federal administrative agencies.
The regulations governing
the operation of the agency.
federal agencies carry
out the laws passed by Congress.
Complainant: the one who files the suit, same as
Complaint: legal paper that starts a case; the written statement by the plaintiff about about the legal claims against the defendant.
Concurring Opinion: not a majority or dissenting opinion. A concurring decision is written by a judge who agrees with the decision, but not altogether with the legal reasoning.
Condonation: the act of forgiving one's spouse who has committed an act of wrongdoing that would constitute a ground for divorce. Condonation generally is proven by living and cohabiting with the spouse after learning that the wrongdoing was committed. It often is used as a defense to a divorce.
Confession of judgment:: written consent of tenant that the landlord may have judgment against tenant automatically, this means that there will not be legal proceedings to determine whether the case has merit.
Constitution: the fundamental law of a state or a nation. It creates the branches of government and identifies basic rights and obligations.
Contempt:: failure to follow a court order. One side can request that the court determine that the other side is in contempt and punish him or her.
Continuance: a request to postpone the case to another date. Usually you need a good reason to request that the case be rescheduled.
Contract: A written or oral agreement between two or more parties.
Corporation: This is one of the ways that a business can be organized. Maryland law allows for the creation of a legal entity that is separate from its owners. When a corporation is formed, it becomes an "artificial legal person". This new "person" can be sued or can sue others. Often a corporation shields its owners from personal responsibility ("liability") for the bad acts of the corporation. If you are considering suing a Joe Lemongelli who sold you a defective car, you first need to find out if it was Joe who sold it to you or the artificial legal person (corporation) called Joe's Lemon Auto Sales. Maybe you should sue them both. This kind of decision is best made with the help of an expert in the law – an attorney.
a person who testifies for you and backs up your story. If you are asking the court to grant a divorce, you must bring to the hearing a witness who can corroborate your grounds for divorce.
Criminal action: a legal proceeding in which the state prosecutes a person who is charged with a public offense. The punishment, set by law, is either a fine, which goes to the state, or imprisonment, or both.
Cross-Claim: When one defendant sues one of the other defendants in the same lawsuit. The cross-claim states that s/he believes the other defendant is responsible for all or part of the money that the plaintiff claims is owed, (by both defendants).
Custody-Sole and Joint: refers to the legal arrangements about the person with whom a child will live and how decisions about the child will be made. Custody has two parts: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the decision-making authority. If a parent is awarded sole legal custody, it means that they alone can make major decisions for the child including, for example, medical/dental and educational decisions. Physical custody refers to where the child lives on a regular basis. If they choose to settle the case, parents can make any custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of the children. If the court must decide custody, the judge will have to determine what is in the best interest of the children.
- D -
Damages: the estimated money equivalent for a loss or injury.
d/b/a: is a short way of saying "doing business as": Example: Attleborough, Levin and Crawdad LLC d/b/a The Virgo Cafe Decision: the result reached by a court in resolving a dispute before it; noted by such terms as "affirmed", "reversed", "modified", etc.
Default: a party's failure to answer a complaint, motion, or petition.
Default Judgment: A judgment awarded in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to appear.
Deposition: An important tool used in pretrial discovery where a person gives his or her deposition when he or she, accompanied by an attorney, answers questions put by the other side's attorney regarding the facts of the case. Depositions are under oath and generally take place in an attorney's office. A court reporter is present and everything that is said is recorded.
Detinue: - this is a type of legal lawsuit. It is common in disputes between sellers and buyers of movable goods. In a detinue action, one side asks the court to order the return of the goods from the other side or that the other side pay appropriate compensation. A similar type of case for return of property is called "replevin".Digest: index to case law arranged by subjects, and case name including brief paragraphs giving the holding of the courts.
This is the process where each side is
allowed to investigate the other side's case
before the trial or hearing. The goal is to
gather information that might be used at the
hearing. It also will help you to decide if
you should negotiate first to try to reach a
settlement. You are allowed to question the
other side, see materials that they plan to
offer and sometimes talk to their witnesses.
There are special court rules that must be
followed. The rules are different for small
claims cases in District Court as compared
to the rules for large claims in District
Court or for cases in MD Circuit Court.
Discovery methods include interrogatories (written questions which one side gives the other side to complete),
document requests and depositions (question and answer sessions conducted in person and recorded).
explicit disagreement of one or more judges of a court with the decision of the majority of the judges.
Distraint:: seizure of personal property.
Distress: the procedure of taking possession of the personal property of another to pay a debt which he owes.
Docket : the calendar of hearings that will be held in the court. It will list the cases scheduled for a particular day or week or month. Court calendars often change at the last minute. It is a good idea to arrive early and to sit in the courtroom where your case will be heard. If your case moves up on the list, you will be there. A docket is also called a "court calendar" or "trial list".
Docket Number: number designation assigned to each case filed in a particular court.
- E -
Escrow: an item being held by a third person (a neutral person) who holds it until the fulfillment of some condition.
Evict:: to eject a tenant by a judicial proceeding.
Evidence: testimony of witnesses and documents which are presented to the court and considered by the court in making a decision.
Exculpatory clause: provision or clause which excuses someone from responsibility.
Execution: A court order to the sheriff to seize goods the defendant owns.
Executor: a person named in a will to dispose of the estate according to the directions in the will.
- F -
Fair Market Value: The amount for which an item can be sold on the open market by a willing seller to a willing buyer.
Federal Register (Fed. Reg.): published daily, it contains new, adopted and proposed federal regulations.
Filing: officially giving the Clerk of Court your legal papers and having them recorded.
Foreclosure: a court action, when the mortgagor fails to make payments of the mortgage. A foreclosure terminates the mortgagor's rights to the property. The property then belongs to the mortgagee (usually the bank or Finance company).
- G -
Garnishment of Property: A procedure whereby the Court has the defendant's bank account seized and the money paid to the plaintiff to satisfy the judgment
Garnishment of Wages: A procedure whereby a portion of the defendant's wages are deducted regularly and paid to the plaintiff to satisfy a judgment.
Grounds For Divorce: the legal basis for a divorce. The law sets out specific circumstances under which a divorce will be granted. Before the court will grant a divorce, the person seeking the divorce must prove that those conditions exist.
- H -
Headnote: brief paragraph which summarizes the points of law discussed in a decision.
- I -
In Re: "in the matter of" This is often used in the caption (top of page) of legal papers filed in court. It summarizes what or who the legal case is about.
Informal Dispute Settlement (IDS) - is also sometimes called non-binding arbitration. It is one type of alternative dispute resolution. It is an informal process in which two parties present their views of a dispute to a neutral third party, called a "Hearing Officer," who will make a non-binding decision on how to resolve the dispute. This means that the parties may still file a lawsuit on this case with a court.
Injunction: a court order directing the defendant to do or not to do a particular thing. Failure to obey an injunction constitutes contempt of court, which is punishable by fine or imprisonment.
Involuntary Separation: the living apart of a married couple for 24 months without agreeing to separate or divorce.
Interrogatories: written questions designed to discover key facts about an opposing party's case, that a party to a lawsuit asks an opposing party.
- J -
Judgment: a court's decision.
- L -
Land Installment Contract : an agreement in which the buyer agrees to buy a dwelling that he will occupy or a lot which will be used for residential purposes, the purchase price will be paid in five or more installments in addition to the down payment, and the seller retains title to the property as security for the buyer's obligation.
Law: any public order or decision that is binding upon those to whom it is addressed. The law exists in many forms, including, constitutional law, statutory law, decisions, regulations, executive orders, local laws, and ordinances.
Law Review: a legal journal published and edited by law school students; legal scholars and students contribute articles.
Lease: an oral or written agreement, express or implied, which creates a landlord-tenant relationship.
Lease option agreement: a lease that contains a clause that gives the tenant some power, either qualified or unqualified, to buy the landlord's interest in the property. A lease option agreement made after July 1, 1971 relating to the purchase of a dwelling, with or without ground rent, must, to be valid, include the following statement in capital letters: THIS IS NOT A CONTRACT TO BUY. In addition, the agreement must contain a clear statement of its purpose and effect concerning the ultimate purchase of the subject property.
Lessee: a tenant; one who enjoys the property by virtue of a lease.
Lessor: a landlord; one who grants the lease.
Lexis: a computerized full-text legal database that you can search to find the exact language of statutes, regulations or cases.
Lien: a charge or claim on property belonging to another, for the satisfaction of a debt or duty.
Liquidated damages: a specific sum of money which has been agreed upon by the parties to a lease (or other contract) as the amount of damages to be paid by a party who has breached the agreement.
- M -
Material breach: a breach (violation, failure to perform) which is important, substantial, not trivial.
Marital Property: includes ALL property acquired during the marriage, even if not titled in both names, with some exceptions.
Master: hears cases like a judge. A master's decision is reviewed by a judge before becoming final.
Mediation: one type of alternative
dispute resolution. A neutral person called
a "mediator" is a trained professional who
helps the disputing parties to find a
solution to which all parties can agree.
The Mediator's role is to advise the parties
and offer suggestions on how to resolve the
differences. Both parties involved play an
active role and ultimately decide the final
outcome of the dispute with the assistance
of the Mediator.
parties have to be willing to cooperate in
order to find this "win-win" solution to the
Mortgage: a pledge of specific property as security for the payment of a debt. The mortgagor is the person who pledges the property. The mortgage accepts the pledge.
Motion: a request to the court.
- N -
Notice to quit: a written notice given by landlord to tenant, indicating that tenant must move from the premises at a time designated.
- O -
Official Reports: collections of decisions published by or on behalf of the deciding jurisdiction.
Option: the right to make a choice; a purchased privilege which gives the holder the power to make the agreement.
Opinion: the official written statement of a case, the court's decision and its reasons for reaching the decision it did.
Ordinance: the local legislation of a city, town, village, or county written by the local legislative body.
- P -
Parties: The plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s).
Partnership: This is one of the ways that a business can be organized. It is often an easier way to organize a business. A general partnership involves two or more people who are personally liable (responsible) for all business debts. This means that if a partnership owns the business, you will need to name the partners themselves in the lawsuit.
Pendente Lite: temporary arrangements for custody, child support, child visitation, alimony, use and possession of the family home, etc., until a final hearing.
Per Curiam Opinion: opinion of the whole court as distinguished from an opinion written by a specific judge.
Personal property: movable property or possessions, as distinguished from real property.
Personal representative: usually, the executor or administrator of a deceased person.
Petition: a legal paper that starts a case.
Plaintiff: the person who started the case.
Pleadings: formal written statements by the parties to a lawsuit indicating their respective claims and defenses which are filed with the court.
Power of attorney, letter of attorney: a document authorizing another person to act as one's agent.
Precedent: an example of authority for a later case which is similar or identical.
Premises: the land, building, or part of a building which is the subject of a lease or grant.
Prima Facie: presumed to be true unless disproved by contrary evidence.
Private Process Server: Any person over 18, not directly involved in the case, who will deliver the Summons and a copy of the plaintiffs Complaint, and later return to the Court an affidavit that he or she has completed service.
Pro Se: Pronounced "Pro Say." representing yourself in court without an attorney.
Probation Before Judgment: (PBJ): A conditional avoidance of imposition of sentence after conviction; failure to satisfy the conditions may cause imposition of sentence after a finding of violation of probation.
- Q -
Quiet enjoyment: covenant of quiet enjoyment - assures that the tenant may peaceably enter on the leased premises at the beginning of the lease term and that the landlord will not interfere with tenant's enjoyment of the premises.
- R -
Real property: land or buildings.
Reconciliation: married people getting back together.
Record/Record Extract: on appeal, the record consists of a transcript of all or a portion of the proceedings in lower courts, including testimony, pleadings, opinions, etc. Rescind: to annul, cancel, terminate a contract, including a lease, and to restore the parties to the position they would occupy if no contract had been made.
Remand: to send back; return of a case by an appellate court to the trial court for further proceedings.
Renewal of Summons: An attempt to try again to serve the defendant with the Summons and Complaint
Replevin: This is a type of legal lawsuit. It is common in disputes between sellers and buyers of movable goods. In a replevin action, one side asks the court to order the return of the goods from the other side. A similar type of case for return of property is called "detinue".
Reports: printed statement of an opinion of the court which is in writing and is published.
Rescind: to annul, cancel, terminate a contract, including a lease, and to restore the parties to the position they would occupy if no contract had been made.
Res Judicata: "the thing has been decided". It usually refers to the the legal doctrine that says once a court decision (or other determination) is final, the same parties cannot go to court again about the same issue.
- S -
Separation: the living apart of a married couple.
Separation Agreement: an oral or written agreement to live apart, entered into by a married couple.
Service: providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side.
Served: The defendant has been "served" when he or she personally receives a Summons to appear in court and a copy of the plaintiff's Complaint.
Settlement: Resolving the dispute, without a judge's ruling, a mutually acceptable out-of-court agreement between the defendant and the plaintiff.
Spouse: husband or wife.
Squatter: someone who settles on the property of another, without legal authority to do so and without the consent of the person who has the right of possession of the property.
Standing to Sue: a party's ability to bring a lawsuit in court because that party has a stake in the outcome of the case. In order to demonstrate standing to sue, a party must show that 1) it has suffered or will suffer injury if it does not bring suit, 2) the injury is a result of the defendant's conduct, and 3) a finding in the party's favor is likely to remedy the injury.
Stare Decisis: the doctrine that decisions should stand as precedents for guidance in future cases.
Statute: legislative enactment.
that requires that all
claims must be filed within a certain period
of time [usually three (3) years from the
time the claim arose].
Contact an attorney to
find out whether the Statute of Limitations has
"run" on your
case. If it has, this would mean that the
case will be dismissed without a hearing.
A defendant may
raise the statute of limitations with the judge at trial
to try to have the case
Stipulation: an agreement made between opposing parties prior to a pending hearing or trial. For example, both parties might stipulate to certain facts, and therefore not have to argue those facts in court. After the stipulation is entered into, it is presented to the judge.
Subpoena:: a form issued by the court requiring someone to appear in court and testify.
Subpoena duces tecum: a
requiring the person to appear
in court and to bring specified documents or other items.
court notice telling the defendant that s/he
is being sued and must appear in court.
Third Party Claim: A claim filed by a defendant who feels that some third party (not yet involved in the case) is responsible and owes him or her money that should be used to satisfy any judgment the plaintiff may win from the defendant.
Transcript: the official record of a legislative, administrative, or court proceeding. It is mainly comprised of the word-for-word testimony of witnesses and arguments by advocates and presiding officers.
Trespass: a wrongful entry, whether with force or peacefully, onto the property of another.
Tort: Injury caused by negligence or wrongful act of another person, which cannot be classified as a breach of contract.
Uncontested Divorce: when the defendant is not going to try to stop the divorce and there are no issues for the court to decide about children, money, or property.
Unofficial Reports: a court report published by a private publisher in addition to the official version done on behalf of deciding jurisdiction.
Unsecured Debts: A debt that is not tied to any item of property. A creditor doesn't have the right to grab property to satisfy the debt if you default. The creditor's only remedy is to sue you and get a judgment.
Use and Possession: the right of the parent who has custody of a minor child of the marriage to remain in the family home for up to three years from the date of divorce, under certain circumstances.
Venue: Where the courts in Maryland have jurisdiction, venue refers to the correct court location for a case to be heard. Usually it is the judicial district and location where the defendant lives or does business or is employed or where a corporation has its main office.
Visitation: the right of a separated or divorced parent to visit a child.
Voluntary Separation: the living apart for 12 months of a married couple who agrees to separate.
Warrant of Restitution: an order of the court requiring that a specific person be restored to his original position.
Witness: One who is called to court to testify in order to tell what he or she knows about the case. (See, also, "Expert Witness").
Writ of Possession: an order of the court directed to the sheriff, requiring him to enter the property and give possession of it to the person entitled to it by judgment of the court.
Writ of Summons: a form issued by the court directing a party to respond to a complaint, motion, or petition.
LIST OF COMMON LEGAL ABBREVIATIONS
A. - Atlantic Reporter
A.2d - Atlantic Reporter, Second Series
A.B.A. - American Bar Association
A.L.R. - American Law Reports
A.L.R.2d - American Law Reports, Second Series
A.L.R.3d - American Law Reports, Third Series
A.L.R.4th - American Law Reports, Fourth Series
A.L.R.5th - American Law Reports, Fifth Series
A.L.R. Fed. - American Law Reports, Federal
Am.Jur. - American Jurisprudence
Am. Jur.2d - American Jurisprudence Second edition
C.F.R. - Code of Federal Regulations
C.J.S. - Corpus Juris Secundum
cert. - certiorari
COMAR - Code of Maryland Regulations
Cong. Rec. - Congressional Record
Cr. L.R. - Criminal Law Reporter, BNA
Ct.Cl. - Court of Claims
D.C. - District Court; District of Columbia
DWI - Descriptive Word Index / Driving While Intoxicated
eff. - effective
et al. - and others
et seq. - and the following
F. - Federal Reporter
F.2d - Federal Reporter, Second Series
F.3d - Federal Reporter, Third Series
F.R.D. - Federal Rules Decisions
F.Supp. - Federal Supplement
Fed. Reg. - Federal Register
G. &J. - Gill & Johnson - early Md. Report
Gill - Gill - early Md. Report
H.&G - Harris & Gill - early Md. Report
H.&J. - Harris & Johnson - early Md. Report
H.&Mc - Harris & McHenry - early Md. Report
I.R.C. - Internal Revenue Code, U.S.
L.Ed.2d - Lawyers' Edition, U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Second Series
Md. - Maryland Reports
Md. Ann. Code - Annotated Code of Md.
Md. App. - Maryland Appellate Reports
Md. L. Rev. - University of Maryland Law Review
Md. R.P. - Maryland Rules of Procedure
Md. Reg. - Maryland Register
Md. Rep. A2d - Maryland Reporter, Atlantic Second Series
N.E. - Northeastern Reporter
N.E.2d - Northeastern Reporter, Second Series
N.W. - Northwestern Reporter
N.W.2d - Northwestern Reporter, Second Series
P. - Pacific Reporter
P.2d - Pacific Reporter, Second Series
PBJ - Probation Before Judgment
P.L. - Public Law
S. - Southern Reporter
S.2d - Southern Reporter, Second Series
S.E. - Southeastern Reporter
S.E.2d - Southeastern Reporter, Second Series
S.Ct. - Supreme Court of the U.S.
Stat. - Statute, or U.S. Statutes at Large
Stet. - Translated, "to stand"; a conditional, indefinite stay of all further proceedings on a charge, allowed by a court on motion of a State's Attorney and marked "stet" on the docket.
S.W. - Southwestern Reporter
S.W.2d - Southwestern Reporter, Second Series
T.C. - Tax Court of the U.S.
T.C.Memo - Tax Court Memorandum Decisions
U. Balt. L. Rev. - University of Baltimore Law Review
U.S. - United States Reports (Supreme Court)
U.S.C. - United States Code (Official)
U.S.C.A. - United States Code Annotated (West Group)
U.S.C.C.A.N. - United States Code Congressional & Administrative News
U.S.C.S. - United States Code Service (Lexis Law Pub.)
U.S.L.W. - United States Law Week (BNA)
USTC - United States Tax Cases
V. - = versus. (Latin) Against. In the title of a court case reference the name of the plaintiff is put first, followed by the abbreviation "v", then the defendant's name.
W.L. - Westlaw online slip opinion