ACTION, in law, is a proceeding or demand for the enforcement or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense.
At common law, actions were subject to highly technical differentiations. It was therefore necessary to make a factual situation conform exactly to rigid categories—called forms of action —in order to invoke the jurisdiction of a court. Under modern procedural rules, however, actions are usually classified only as civil or criminal for purposes of pleading. A concise statement of facts and a request for damages or other appropriate remedy provide a sufficient basis for judicial relief.
In addition to their broad designation as civil actions, private (or noncriminal) actions are classified in various ways denoting the nature of their origin, their effect upon parties and property, and other legal consequences. Characterized with respect to its object, an action may be in personam or in rem. The purpose of an action in personam is to gain a judgment against an individual, while the purpose of an action in rem is to determine the status of property or of individuals in their relationships to others. Whether a suit is in personam or in rem is primarily of importance in connection with the adequacy of service of process and the jurisdiction of courts.
A distinction is also made between real actions, for the determination of rights in land, and personal actions, for damages or for other redress unrelated to rights in real property. Under modern law, the chief significance of this classification is in determining where an action may properly be brought. In general, actions relating to real estate are local and must be brought where the property is located, while other kinds of actions are transitory and can be brought wherever the defendant is found.
Civil actions are also classified as ex contractu and ex delicto, the former arising from breach of contract and the latter comprising torts, or wrongs to person or property originating in breaches of noncontractual duties. With the abolition of forms of actions, this distinction is generally no longer of primary importance.