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` Last updated November 22, 2009

Filing A Federal Lawsuit

The first thing you must consider is time. A federal lawsuit can take from 6 hours to settle to 4 years to conclusion, or longer. And it can be a frustrating 4 plus years. Most lawsuits never go to trial but that doesn't mean they get settled quickly. And sign up for PACER. Almost every federal court web site has a link to PACER. Get a PACER account and learn how to use it. In our experiences we've had lawyers twice not mail us what they filed with the court (we believe on purpose). PACER allows you to monitor all filings and rulings at a minumum cost. Checking the docket runs 8 cents which is nothing compared to the security it provides. If you want to see a document, it's 8 cents a page.

Lawsuits are mainly about facts. It is important to understand the law, of course. You must be able to cite and discuss constitutional provisions, cases, and statutes and challenge any misstatements about the law that your opponents make. In the end, however, facts matter more. You can think of a lawsuit as a basketball or football game. While you need to understand the rules of the game the law you will win only if you score the most points. In a lawsuit, facts are points.

You will have to file in the Federal District Court nearest where you live if you can establish jurisdiction. If not, you have to file in the home district of your opponent. Jurisdiction depends on the law. If you can't make them come to your home court then there is little reason to file unless you have money and then why are you reading this? The cost of filing a federal lawsuit, as of 2009, is $350.00. All motions and papers filed after the original complaint are free. Your other costs will be copying and mailing paperwork, travel expenses, and time lost from work.

We will be showing you examples of filings and explaining them to you. These are examples, guides, and nothing more. Every law suit, motion, answer, etc, is different and must be individually written and researched. We can show you what must be done but we cannot do it for you. Representing yourself in court takes time and commitment. It is not easy and it is not cut-and-paste. But, that said, it can be done and it gets easier as you go along.

In order to file a federal lawsuit you must have standing. And you must have all parties involved. This is called joinder of parties.

Before you begin working on your complaint, there are certain things you want to do in the way of setting up your computer, files to get, and forms you'll need.

What follows is a general format. There is no formal format. There are things that must be in the complaint. There are a lot of legal documents on the internet. Read them and study their presentation of pleadings such as centering, bolding, underlining, etc, and learn how others have done it. Select a style and follow it. You can always adjust it as you go. And, this outline does not cover everything you may encounter in court. Just the main points.

Anyone contemplating filing a federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment for non-trademark infringement, should download this lawsuit, a lawsuit against Burberry in the Western District of Washington (Case No. 10-00850). Click here for the full 17-page complaint in PDF format. As a court document, it is public domain so feel free to use it as you wish.

Some information was drawn from Lexis Nexis and http://www.splcenter.org/pdf/static/pyhs_chapter_10.pdf. It is reproduced accurately not not always in its entirity because of its original audience.
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