Legal Memorandum: Claims and Causes of Action

Issue: What is the difference between a ‘claim’ and a ’cause of action’?

Area of Law: Bankruptcy & Creditors Rights, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Claim; Cause of action
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 849 F.2d 354; 539 F.3d 809
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2013

The terms “claim” and “cause of action” are used interchangeably in various contexts.  See, e.g., St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Compaq Computer Corp., 539 F.3d 809, 821 (8th Cir. 2008) (stating, in res judicata context, that “Minnesota courts use the terms ‘claim’ and ’cause of action’ interchangeably”); Comsat Corp. v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., No. Civ. 97–2236 (D. Minn. Mar. 6, 1998) (also stating that “‘[c]ause of action’ and ‘claim’ are loosely defined terms, and have been interpreted as interchangeable by the Eighth Circuit).  As the Comsat Corp. court explained,

A “cause of action” is a situation or state of facts which entitles a party to sustain an action and gives him the right to seek judicial interference in his behalf.  Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the word “claim” denotes the same thing, i.e. “the aggregate of operative facts which give rise to a right enforceable in the courts.” (citation omitted). 


The authorities on when a cause of action on a guaranty or other debt accrues are instructive in this regard.  A cause of action to collect a debt accrues “when the creditor accelerates the debt, not when the default or other event on which acceleration is based occurs.”  See 16 Causes of Action 391, Cause of Action to Accelerate Maturity of Debt § 23 (2012); United States v. Feterl, 849 F.2d 354 (8th Cir. 1998).  A cause of action to enforce a […]

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