How to file a civil complaint
Elements of a Civil Complaint Certain sections of a complaint tend to be boilerplate language(for example, the greeting, damages, jury demand, prayer forrelief). When looking at a complaint, sections are separate and inthis order:
Case caption -
tells which court you are in and who theparties are. Leaves room for the court clerk to stamp a casenumber onto. Don't put this information in column format.The Dole case forgot the close-quotes down the middle tocordon off the names from the court space. See the Viacomcase for a proper case caption.
Title of the pleading
- the title here would be Complaint.In some jurisdictions, it is called a Petition.
Short introduction -
a typical introduction might state,"Comes Now the plaintiff, Justin King, by and through hisattorney, and alleges:" (It can be just this short)
who the parties are and where they reside to showthe court it has personal jurisdiction over the parties.
Jurisdiction and Venue -
what statute or statutes give thecourt authority to hear the subject matter of the case andthat the chosen courthouse is the correct one (this isvenue).
Allegations or Statement of Facts -
what happened. Tellthe story of the accident. Tell the story in the most succinctway possible. Don't skip around. Try to keep the flow so it isconvincing. This is why we LOVE computers because you cancut and paste and rearrange paragraphs to make our client'sstory more cohesive and enrapture our audience (the judge)to want to give us what we are asking for.
Causes of Action -
what legal theories are you asserting?What duty did the defendant have towards plaintiff? How diddefendant breach that duty? How was plaintiff hurt by thebreach? Each cause of action is listed separately. See
Chapter 4 in the book for the facts needed to be alleged foreach cause of action.
what is plaintiff asking for? Take a look at thedamages request from the Dole case. It is a generaldamages request, and a lot of attorneys use just thatwording in every complaint pleading they draft. Remembersome lawyers consider this boilerplate language and cutfrom an old complaint pleading to paste into a newcomplaint pleading. (As you can tell, been there, done thatto make life a little easier.) BUT keep in mind that dependingon the causes of action you may need to be a lot morespecific in your damages demand.
Jury Demand -
If you want a jury, you have to ask for it.
Prayer for Relief -
Ask the court nicely to help the plaintiff.Commonly considered boiler plate and the Dole E.coli case isa really good example.
Date when the complaint is submitted to the court-
this is especially important because there will always be astatute of limitation, a statute of repose, etc., and timematters to the law.
Attorney information and signature -
this is usually donesingle spaced, not double spaced. Need to remember theattorney's bar number, street address, city, state and zip,phone number, and fax number. Also, who does the attorneyrepresent?