Demurrer Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Demurrer, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Demurrer?

n. A complaint’s written response that pleads for dismissal claiming that while the alleged facts were correct, they do not constitute a legal basis for a lawsuit. The validity of the demurrer will be determined during a hearing before a judge. While some causes of action will be defeated by a demurrer, others may survive. If a judge determines that the complaint is unclear or omits an essential element of fact, he/she will sustain the demurrer but “with leave to amend” which allows changes to make the original complaint good. Demurrers cannot always be corrected by amendments to the complaints, for instance, this would not work in a case that was filed after the time that was allowed to file a suit. When this occurs, the demurrer will be granted sustained. Rarely, a demurrer can be used to attack a complaint’s answer.

History and Meaning of Demurrer

A demurrer is a legal filing in response to a complaint that asks the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that the facts alleged in the complaint do not constitute a legal cause of action. In other words, it's a motion to dismiss. Demurrers were first used in English common law in the 1300s and have since been adopted by many common law jurisdictions, including the United States.

The goal of a demurrer is to challenge the sufficiency of the complaint as a matter of law, rather than as a matter of fact. It's a way for a defendant to argue that, even if everything in the complaint is true, the plaintiff still doesn't have a valid legal claim. Demurrers can be used to challenge several aspects of a complaint, including the facts alleged, the legal theories presented, or the sufficiency of the pleading itself.

Examples of Demurrer

  1. In a lawsuit alleging breach of contract, the defendant files a demurrer arguing that even if all the facts alleged in the complaint are true, the plaintiff still hasn't stated a valid cause of action because the contract is not legally enforceable.
  2. In a personal injury case, the defendant files a demurrer arguing that even if the plaintiff was injured, they cannot make a legal claim because the defendant did not owe any duty of care to the plaintiff.
  3. In a defamation case, the defendant files a demurrer arguing that even if they made the statements alleged by the plaintiff, the statements are not defamatory as a matter of law.

Legal Terms Similar to Demurrer

  1. Motion to dismiss - a filing that seeks to have a case dismissed for a variety of reasons, including lack of jurisdiction or insufficient pleadings.
  2. Summary judgment - a motion that asks the court to rule in favor of one party based on the undisputed facts of the case.
  3. Motion for judgment on the pleadings - a motion that asks the court to rule in favor of one party based solely on the allegations in the pleadings.