Writing a Complaint – The Parties
Now that you know how to setup the caption on the first page of all court documents, let’s continue with the writing of a complaint. According to Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “A civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court.” Simple – all lawsuits are started with a complaint.
Typically, just following the caption and your preamble, the first section of your complaint will name the parties to the action. Most courts require in their local rules (see your Controlling Law file) that you list each party and their address; some courts require telephone numbers in addition; and at least one that I know of – namely the federal district court in Washington D.C. – requires names, addresses, and telephone numbers for all parties in the caption.
In my civil actions for damages, I like to make the first section my demand for a jury trial, but you don’t have to follow my example here. What is important, though, is that you follow the sequence of sections required by your local court rules, i.e., “Parties” section first, then “Jurisdiction & Venue” section, and so on.
It is highly recommended that you call the Clerk’s office where you will be filing and request a “Pro Se Packet,” which will have all sorts of helpful tips for writing, serving and filing your documents, and will likely have a blank copy of a Complaint that you can either fill out, or follow to create your own like mine; many courts also have online forms and help for pro se litigants.
Setting up the Parties’ section is, fortunately, a “no-brainer.” Just type PARTIES and center it on the page; you can make it bold like mine if you wish. Then list each plaintiff and defendant, along with the required contact information, in numbered paragraphs.
Numbered paragraphs are required nationwide, for a reason: they are helpful to the courts and the parties in that they can be referred to and easily looked up when making written and oral arguments in the future.
This example has only one defendant; however, many complaints will have multiple defendants; I filed an action in federal court a few years ago that had 53 defendants and the Parties’ section was 3-4 pages long. Most jurisdictions require capitalization of names. I like to capitalize names in both the caption and the Parties’ section, and sometimes in the “Statement of the Case” section of the complaint I will use all-caps so the names of the various defendants stand out in each allegation.
When you complete the Parties’ section, make sure to update your Contact List, if necessary, with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of each defendant (and other plaintiffs, if appropriate). This will help make service of process and mailings easier in the future.
Lesson #5 will cover the “Jurisdiction and Venue” section of a complaint.
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