A rejoinder is a defendant’s response to a plaintiff’s claim in a series of common law pleadings. The term is an historical holdover from English common law and a time when legal actions were brought under a writ authorized by the presiding monarch or other authority and the format of submitting information to the court was particularly stylized. Common law pleadings have been replaced in most jurisdictions by code pleadings.
Pleadings are a series of written documents presented to the court in a legal action to state each party’s claims, defenses, and legal theories. A pleading system proceeds in writing from a claim presented by a plaintiff to a defendant’s response, countering with supplementary documents until the chain of available responses is exhausted. Under common law, a rejoinder was the specific name of the response to a plaintiff’s replication, which was a response to a defendant’s plea. The common law pleading system proceeded from the plaintiff’s declaration of claim to the defendant’s plea in response, and then back and forth by replication, rejoinder, surrejoinder, rebuttal, and, finally, the plaintiff’s surrebuttal.
Under common law, a rejoinder was a type of counterclaim. It was restricted to the presentation of one issue, however, in direct response to the plaintiff’s presentation of facts in his declaration of claim. Courts during that time were only allowed to hear one claim and one theory of defense in the same case. This is very much unlike courts today which prefer to address multiple causes of actions on the same facts at the same time, and also allow the defendant to present multiple, and sometimes contradictory, defenses.
The one claim, one answer requirement placed certain restrictions on the format of a rejoinder. To be acceptable to the court, a rejoinder had to present a single, direct, triable issue. The issue had to be positive and not argumentative, repugnant, or insensible. Finally, the rejoinder could not depart from the facts and statements presented in the defendant’s plea.
This system of common law pleadings has largely been replaced by code pleadings in most jurisdictions with legal systems based on the English tradition. Code pleadings are typically simplified versions of common law pleadings, and can be easily recognized as derivative. In the U.S., for example, the federal court system has adopted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that prescribes the series of pleadings for a civil court case at the federal level.