Writing a Complaint – Prayer for Relief
Now comes the exciting part of writing a complaint: requesting damages!
Alleging all those painful facts in the Statement of the Case section and then applying the controlling law of your case to the facts and pleading just the essential fact elements of your Causes of Action is hard work, but now we can simply “pray” for relief in the PRAYER FOR RELIEF section, and then finalize our complaints by “verifying” and signing them, and packaging them up for filing and service of process (which we will touch on in this lesson, and on which we will devote future lessons to fully cover these important tasks).
Some research is necessary to determine damage limits in your area and, regardless of limitations in state or federal law, case law research will eventually be necessary to determine how courts and juries in your state have decided causes of action like yours. However, this research is typically done just prior to trial, and many complaints will simply make a generic request for the jury remedies available to the plaintiff, such as compensatory and punitive damages, or “monetary damages in an amount according to proof.” Some complaints request remedies by a judge, such as declaratory judgment or injunction. And some complaints request remedies by both a jury and a judge.
According to Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary: “The plaintiff usually makes a “special prayer” for specific relief (for example, a monetary amount to recover from an injury), and then follows with an unspecific “general prayer” to recover any additional amount not specified that a court decides is appropriate.”
My complaint prays for actual damages and other damages based upon a portion of damages accruing in my family’s “MASTER CIVIL COMPLAINT.”
A summary of the overall damages my family has suffered over the past 10 years is included in this complaint, as endnote i starting on page 6.
A whole series of lessons will be written in the future on the various types of damages and how to request them. For now, though, you can relax knowing that the way you explain to the court what you want in your first complaint is probably just fine.
Following the PRAYER FOR RELIEF section, you can verify your complaint if you wish “under penalty of perjury,” which tells the court that you are willing to swear to the truth of your allegations. I always include a VERIFICATION section. I believe that signing a complaint under oath carries a lot of weight. I could go on and on, however, describing my ex-wife’s and her attorney’s numerous perjuries in their verified court documents in her divorce, which were knowingly ignored by the family courts.
Check the rules in your state regarding signing your court documents. Minnesota requires printed name, address, and telephone number under the plaintiff’s signature.
Next, read the rules of civil procedure (in your Controlling Law file) regarding filing and service of process.
In Minnesota, plaintiffs can serve their complaints by mail with a form called a “Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt of Complaint and Summons.” If the defendant refuses to acknowledge receipt, we can “move” the court to order the defendant to pay for formal service of process by the Sheriff or an independent process server.
Then, go online and see if your state has instructions for filing and download whatever forms you may need to submit with the complaint. If you are indigent and cannot afford the filing fee, download an application for “in forma pauperis” status, fill it out, and submit it with your complaint. And finally, file your complaint at the clerk’s office in your courthouse.
You’re done! – at least with the complaint. Great job!
A future Lesson Series will teach you how to do “discovery.”