Getting Ready to Write Court Documents
FOUNDER’S NOTE: From this point on, these Lessons will focus on the civil process of filing lawsuits and motions and responses. I will be setting up my family’s next case at the same time, and will include snapshots of my files and docs to make it easier for you to follow along. [In future lessons, likely starting in 2016, we will teach you how to defend yourself pro se in criminal matters; if you have a current need for information on the criminal justice system, please make your specific request in the form below.]
In the last lesson, we began building our cases by setting up a Main file (entitled “Plaintiff v. Defendant”) and a Controlling Law file. Now, open a new file entitled “Complaint” or “Motions” or “Pleadings.”
Pleadings are actually the initial complaint, or answer to a complaint, and other supporting documents in a lawsuit, but it can also refer to any allegation or statement or argument in a legal proceeding, which includes all verbal and written communications with the court, so if you prefer, just put all your court documents in your Pleadings file.
Next, read the Rules of Civil Procedure (or Criminal or Appellate…) and the Court’s Rules for your jurisdiction, and note the formatting rules for court documents. Many judicial districts require double spacing, fonts of a certain size, margins of a certain size, numbered paragraphs, and so on.
If you do not have a typewriter, word processor, or computer, you can hand-write your court documents, and all courts, both state and federal, must accept them. In this event, layout your document as instructed in this lesson, and try to write as legibly as possible.
Open a blank document. Your complaints and motions and other pleadings will all look the same on the first page, which contains the “caption” of your case – the name of the court, the case number, the names of the plaintiffs and defendants and in what capacity they are suing or being sued, and the title of the document. Under the caption, I always include a preamble so everyone can see the purpose of my pleading at a glance. Also, a jury demand is usually required on the first page, and so I make it in the first numbered paragraph of my complaints, although most times it is made just above or below the title (the name of the document, such as “COMPLAINT”).
See the CAPTION on page 1 of my complaint here.
Minnesota uses a table at the top to identify the court, the case number and the type of case, but most states and the federal courts require simply the name of the court at the top. Minnesota also wants the title of the document, such as “VERIFIED COMPLAINT,” to the right of the parties, but most courts want to see the title below the parties.
The case number on all complaints is left blank. However, upon filing, make sure you put the case number on your template for all future court documents.
Of course, your court document will be constructed according to your local rules and may look different than mine, but the overall layout will be the same for all your court documents in any given case, so make sure you save a template for future use. Here is what a typical caption looks like in federal court (and in most state courts):
Now you’re ready to start “alleging” or “pleading” your case.
Lesson #4 will cover the “Parties” section of a complaint.
NOTE: If you would like to see a lesson on a particular topic, or if you would like to write one or more of these lessons, please submit your request or lesson below: