Virtually every U.S. state has some forms available on web for most common complaints for lawyers and self-representing litigants; if a petitioner cannot find an appropriate form in his state, he often can modify a form from another state to fit his request. Several United States federal courts published general guidelines for the petitioners and Civil Rights complaint forms.
Complaint generally has following structure elements:
- Caption and Heading - lists name, address and telephone number of the filing attorney at the top of the complaint. The casecaption usually also indicates the court in which the case originates, names of the parties and brief description of the document.
- Jurisdiction and venue - this section describes why the case should be heard in the selected court rather than some other court or forum.
- Parties - identifies plaintiffs and defendants.
- Definitions - optional section which defines some terms used throughout the document. The main purpose of a definition is to achieve clarity without needless repetition.
- Statement of facts - lists facts that brought the case to the court.
- Cause of Action - a numbered list of legal allegations (called "counts"), with specific details about application of the governing law to the each count. In this section plaintiff usually cites existing Law, previous decisions of current court, decisions of the higher appellate courts, and cases from other courts, - as an analogy to resolve similar questions of law.
- Injury - plaintiff explains to the judge how the actions of the defendants harmed his rights.
- Demand for relief - describes the relief that plaintiff is seeking as a result of the lawsuit. The relief can include request for declaratory judgment, request for injunctive relief (non-monetary relief), compensatory and actual damages (such as monetary relief), punitive damages (non-compensatory), and other relief.
After the complaint has been filed with the court, it has to be properly served to the opposite parties, but usually petitioners are not allowed to serve the complaint personally. Court also can issue summons - official summary document which plaintiff needs serve together with the complaint. The defendants have limited time to respond, depending on the State or Federal rules. A defendant's failure to answer a complaint can result in a default judgment in favor of the petitioner.
For example, in United States federal courts, any person who is at least 18 years old and not a party may serve a summons and complaint in a civil case. The defendant must submit an answer within 21 days after being served with the summons and complaint, or request a waiver, according to FRCP Rule 12. After the civil complaint was served to the defendants, plaintiff must as soon as practicable initiate a conference between the parties to plan for the rest of the discovery process and then parties should submit a proposed discovery plan to the judge within 14 days after the conference.
In many U.S. jurisdictions, a complaint submitted to a court must be accompanied by a Case Information Statement, which sets forth specific key information about the case and the lawyers representing the parties. This allows the judge to make determinations about which deadlines to set for different phases of the case, as it moves through the court system.
There are also freely accessible web search engines to assist parties in finding court decisions that can be cited in the complaint as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law. Google Scholar is the biggest database of full text state and federal courts decisions that can be accessed without charge. These web search engines often allow one to select specific state courts to search.
Federal courts created the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system to obtain case and docket information from the United States district courts, United States courts of appeals, and United States bankruptcy courts. The system is managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts; it allows lawyers and self-represented clients to obtain documents entered in the case much faster than regular mail.
Read more about this topic: Complaint
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