Paralegals: Constructing the Complaint

 The Parts of a Complaint

The caption is the heading, and it contains the names of the parties to the lawsuit, the case number, and the title of the court paper.

When you first file, you will not have a case number.  The clerk will stamp it on your paperwork, and that will be your case number throughout the case.  The parties are the one bringing the lawsuit, the plaintiff, and the one being served the lawsuit, the defendant.  There may be multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants, each of whom must be named in the caption.  The title of the court document is simply Complaint, or whatever type of pleading you are making.

Types of Pleadings

A complaint is what states the basis for your claim and your demand for relief.  A counterclaim is a claim for relief against an opposing party after that party has asserted a claim against you.  A cross-claim is a claim from one co-party (i.e., plaintiff or defendant) against another co-party, and it is related to the original claim.  A third-party complaint is one filed by the defendant in order to hold a third-party partly liable for any relief due to you.  In addition, a pleading may simply be an answer to the above-mentioned pleadings (learn more about answers to complaints in Part Two of this series).

How to Draft Your Complaint.

  The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure basically dictate that a claim state:

  the grounds for the court's jurisdiction;

  the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and

  the relief sought.

The parties are Plaintiff and the Defendant, and it depends on where they both residethat decides which has jurisdiction.  Allegations spell out the facts that remain to be proven.  The causes of action are listed separately and spell out the legal theories you are asserting.  If a jury demand is needed, you would state this in your complaint.  Finally, the relief is the  request for something to alleviate the wrong done (e.g., money, possession of property, divorce, child custody, etc.).

For any state and court, search Google for "rules of civil procedure [your state]" inserting the state and removing the brackets and quotation marks.  Then select the court's website to get instructions on filing the complaint in the appropriate court (e.g., family court, small claims court, etc.).  Make sure you provide the forms in the format specified by the court, to prevent delays.

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