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We are not lawyers and we cannot give you legal advice. Our opinions and the information provided is based upon our experiences in federal court as well as research. You should always contact an attorney if you have a legal problem.

Last updated March 22, 2009

The Complaint

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..

After the header, you begin with a simple statement of what this filing is all about. Nothing fancy but it should reference the federal rule or law under which you are basing the complaint. We will be using our complaint against Sevenarts and Chalk & vermillion Fine Arts as our working example. Click here for the complaint as HTML. We also have it as a word document, click here.

The complaint is the initial pleading in a lawsuit, and is filed by the plaintiff. The date of filing of the complaint is what counts for statute of limitation purposes in federal question suits. It also starts the clock on service.

FRCP 8(a) - A lawsuit, or complaint, has three basic parts that you must include:

a. Jurisdiction: A short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends;

b. Statement of the claim: A short and plain statement of the claim showing that you are entitled to relief; and;

c. Relief: A demand for judgment, or prayer, for the relief (e.g., money damages, injunction, etc.) Calling it a prayer and continuing to call it a prayer is a good example of why the law is so hard for people to understand. It is nothing more than a statement of what you want from the court.

When you prepare a lawsuit, one of the first things you put in the complaint is a short paragraph citing specifically how the court has jurisdiction to hear the case. If you cannot establish jurisdiction then there is no lawsuit in that court.

In your complaint it is good to follow next with a historical background of events and parties. Keep it simple and direct. Stick to basic facts and don't elaborate. Follow the lead of Sergeant Friday on Dragnet, "Just the facts".

Next you outline the acts by the defendants that specifically caused you to file the complaint. You must make "short and plain statements" of the claim showing that you are entitled to relief. You need to state only the facts, not the legal theory upon which you are relying. Don't stretch the truth. Leave the lying to the corporate lawyers. Back your statements up with documentation if you have it. While this isn't required, we have found that when the opposing party does answer they forget to specifically dispute the evidence that accompanies the complaint.
Note: Certain "special matters" must be pleaded with particularity if they are to be raised at trial (see F.R.C.P. 9). If you are going to be pleading "special matters" get an attorney. Do no try it yourself.

The last thing you include is a step-by-step section for causes of action. Here you should follow a similar format as the example. One paragraph for each federal and/or state law you feel the other party violated. Again, there are plenty of examples available on the internet. Search for them using AltaVista, study their format, and pick one to use.

You must also consider if you are going to seek damages. Damages vary from state to state. It is unlikely you will get much in federal damages representing yourself. Few litigants do get damages even with a lawyer except for copyright infringements if you are the owner of the copyright.

In your conclusion, you make your "prayer" for relief and/or damages. The court does not assume what relief you want. You MUST state to the court what you want or you will not get it.

Your must serve every filing upon your opponent or his/her lawyer. If there is more than one defendant, all must be served unless they share attornerys.

Go file your complaint. Take with you two copies for the court, one for yourself, and one for each defendant. The court will time stamp each copy as received. File your copy in a binder and maile the other copies to your opponents. When you filed, your case was assigned to a judge and given a case number. The case number will be used on all future filings. Go on-line and look up the judge's rules. If the judge has rules, download them onto your computer and learn which may apply to you.

Now you sit back and wait. They may call you to settle before the issue goes any further. They may not. If the case isn't settled, you wiill either get an answer to your complaint, a F.R.C.P. (12)(b) motion, or you will be filing for a default judgment.

Steps For Filing The Complaint

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