A Paralegal’s Quick Guide for Drafting a Pleading

A pleading, in legal terms, is used to explain the purpose of the documents that contain the claims or defense filed by the parties with the court. In layman’s terminology, it is a formal statement that sets out the issues that have to be tried. These are short and plain statements that set the grounds upon which a party has a basis to the claim.

A pleading needs to contain three vital elements according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
These elements are:
  • A short statement of the grounds on which the court’s jurisdiction depends
  • A short statement of the claims that the plaintiff or pleader is entitled to
  • The demand for judgment for the relief the plaintiff or pleader seeks

Identify the Parties  

Your pleading will need to clearly identify the parties involved. How can you avoid missing or misidentifying anyone? Carefully review your materials and make the following determinations:

Who is the plaintiff? As a general rule, an action must be brought by and in the name of the real party in interest―an individual who can discharge a given right, obligation, or liability and control an action brought to enforce it. Exceptions may apply. For example, a statute or ordinance may designate a specific person who must sue. In some cases, third-party beneficiaries and subrogees may be able to sue in the name of the contracting party who created the interest being enforced.

Against whom is the plaintiff taking action or filing suit? Persons or entities that can properly be sued are specified under the rules of civil procedure and jurisdictional law. Jurisdictions may have special rules regarding who may sue and be sued in actions by or against a minor, an incompetent, a state or commonwealth, a political subdivision, a partnership, an unincorporated association, or a corporation—or in wrongful death actions or class actions.

You may already have received a list of persons and entities for this action from the attorney who gave you the assignment. In addition, your discovery materials may help identify involved parties.

Title of the Pleading

The point of the complaint is to state enough information to inform the opposing party of the nature of the claim that is drawn against them. It does not require any conclusions or facts to establish the essentials of a cause of action. When forming a pleading, you should keep a checklist of the various claims that need to be included in the complaint and have a basis to prove each of those claims. Generally, the title of the pleading is self explanatory as is created by the plaintiff. In case there are multiple plaintiffs or defendants represented by a separate counsel, then you would need to include the name of the party in the title to avoid confusion.

Jurisdiction and Venue

After introducing the nature of the complaint in the opening sentence, you will need to make sure that you include the jurisdiction and venue of the court in the complaint. Each court has a different jurisdiction and for the complaint to be justified, it will have to address the right court with the proper subject matter jurisdiction. The venue of the court is the geographical area in which a case can be heard and determined.

When choosing an appropriate venue you must keep in mind several key elements such as the cost to your client, statues of limitations, choice of judges, basis to prove your client’s claim or claims, allowable damages, and prospective jury pools. If you do not have the proper jurisdiction or venue, you are giving the opposing party an opportunity to have the law suit dismissed before being heard. 

Organizing your Thoughts

The key to drafting a successful pleading is to make sure that you have a clear idea of what the claims are that your client is making and relevant proof for each of those claims. Then you should state the events in a chronological and logical order. Do not try and use multiple theories to prove your claim as it will create unnecessary confusion for the judge to rule in your favor. Make sure that your theory is simple so as to avoid broadening the scope of discovery in the claim which will increase your client’s litigation cost. The point of pleading is to create a cause of action that is backed by a legal theory that allows the plaintiff to make an allegation with the right to judicial relief.

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