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a claim in law and fact sufficient to form the basis of a valid lawsuit, as a BREACH OF CONTRACT. A RIGHT OF ACTION is the legal right to sue; a cause of action is the composite of facts that gives rise to a right of action. Source: Barron's Dictionary of Legal Terms, Steven H. Gifis, 5th Edition; © 2016
"cause of action' may mean one thing for one purpose and something different for another." United States v. Memphis Cotton Oil Co., 288 U. S. 62, 288 U. S. 67-68 (1933). The phrase apparently became a legal term of art when the New York Code of Procedure of 1848 abolished the distinction between actions at law and suits in equity and simply required a plaintiff to include in his complaint "[a] statement of the facts constituting the cause of action" [Footnote 14] 1848 N.Y. Laws, ch. 379, § 120(2). By the first third of the 20th century, however, the phrase had become so encrusted with doctrinal complexity that the authors of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure eschewed it altogether, requiring only that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 8(a). See Original Ballet Russe, Ltd. v. Ballet Theatre, Inc., 133 F.2d 187, 189 (CA2 1943). Nevertheless, courts and commentators have continued to use the phrase "cause of action" in the traditional sense established by the Codes to refer roughly to the alleged invasion of "recognized legal rights" upon which a litigant bases his claim for relief.
- Davis v. Passman, 442 US 228 (1979)