This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol7 Equity Jurisprudence, Trusts, Equity Pleading", by Albert H. Putney. Also available from Amazon: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The nature of a plea is thus described by Mr. Fletcher in his work on Equity Pleading:1
"Where an objection to the bill is not apparent on the bill itself, the defendant, if he wishes to take advantage of it, must show to the court the matter which creates the objection, by answer or plea. A plea is a special answer showing or relying upon one or more things as a cause why the suit should be either dismissed, delayed, or barred.2 It has been said to differ from an answer in the common form, as it demands the judgment of the court, in the first instance, whether the special matter urged for it does not debar the complainant from his title to that answer which the bill requires.3 A plea which sets forth nothing except what appears on the face of the bill is bad, and must be overruled, although the objection, if raised, by demurrer, would have been valid, as the proper office of a plea is to bring forth fresh matter not apparent in the bill.4 Every defense which may be a full answer to the merits of the bill is not, as of course, to be considered as entitled to be brought forward by way of plea. Where a defense consists in a variety of circumstances, there is no use in a plea.
1 Fletcher on Equity Pleading,
Sec. 235. 2 Cockburn vs. Thompson, 16 Ves.,
3 Roche vs. Morgell, 2 Schoales &
L. 725; Beame's Pleas in Eq., 1.
4 Bicknell vs. Gough, 3 Atk., 558.
The examination must still be at large, and the effect of allowing such a plea will be that the court will give their judgment upon the circumstances of the case before they are made out by proof. The true end of a plea is to save the parties the expense of an examination of the witnesses at large.5 The defense proper for a plea is such as reduces the cause, or some part of it, to a single point, or to the point to which the plea applies.6 Hence, a plea, in order to be good, whether it be affirmative or negative, must be either an allegation or a denial of some leading fact, or of matters which, taken collectively, make out some general fact, which is a complete defense.7 But although the defense offered by way of plea would consist of a great variety of circumstances, yet, if they all tend to a single point, the plea may be good." 8