All News & Insights

What Are Complaints?

Corporate & Business Law

9 minute read

Today we’re going to talk about complaints. First q is what is a complaint ? A complaint is a document that sets forth the facts underlying your suit as well as the causes of action, what are the legal claims that are the basis of your suit? First q is what must i include in my complaint you need to have the name of the parties, a description of the facts giving rise to the complaint as well as an identification of the legal wrongdoings. Today i’ve brought in a complaint that i did in federal court and you can see here at the top i’ve listed the parties, the plaintiffs/defendant/court it’s in the US district court of massachusetts in this situation i had the case# and this was an amended complaint so you do have the opportunity through the suit to add and refine your complaint. The first page you see is the prefatory allegations. That’s a description of the parties and who they are. Then in federal court you have to say why the court has jurisdiction, why that federal court is the proper one vs maybe a federal court in minnesota. here i go on to the background. Here I provide a description of the facts and go on for quite a few pages. And then we get to the COA - in this case the first COA is for fraud and intentional misrepresentation and those are the legal elements of that coa. And then at the end we have a what we call the prayer which is a description generally of the relief we’re seeking it doesn’t have to be specific it can be general-whether you’re seeking attorney’s fees, treble damages, you’re seeking injunctive relief, you’re seeking an order from a court and finally you should put in a request for a jury. You don’t wanna waive that, even if you don’t want a jury at trial. When you get to that stage, put it in, you can always waive at the end but you  don't wanna waive beforehand and lose the chance to have a jury. Do I need to put in every fact? No. You don't wanna hem yourself in and put in every fact that then comes back and haunts you. 2 you wanna present a logical story and sometimes fewer facts are better even if it may be relevant it dilutes the other facts so pick ur key facts/the facts that are logically connected and put those in. ur not trying your case in the complaint. you are simply giving the court and other side a roadmap of generally where ur going what is the general circumstances giving rise to ur complaint. Conversely you  don't put in as few facts as possible. The judge is gonna pick up the complaint throughout the case and they'll read it to understand what it’s about. you want them to read it and have a good understanding of your suit. That also means don't get emotional in this try to sound objective even though you’re not, try to sound objective so when the judge reads it they're like oh they’re being reasonable the objective is logical- i understand there is something here. Once you’ve finished writing the complaint you need to file it w the court and when you file it w the court that's when you get case # I showed you that at the beginning and in this case that was the civil action number and from then on everything you file with the court-pleadings, motions, anything that goes to the court- should have that number on it. You also need to get from the court a summons. Here’s the summons that went with this case. and when you go to serve a complaint you also must serve a summons. It’s a legal order for the party to appear. So you'll get a blank summons and you have to fill it in describing the parties etc. it’s quite easy, there’s not a lot to fill in. when you draft the complaint please look at local rules every jurisdiction has diff rules for example California requires your pleading papers to have #s on the side other jurisdictions don't so take a look at local rules just to make sure of formatting but the general formatting is v similar to what i just showed you with each state maybe having variations from that. Okay then when you have the complaint filed you have ur summons then you need to serve it and normally you use a sheriff or constable you have to pay them $20-40 they will go to the home of the person ur suing- or if it’s a business they’ll go to the business- and they’ll drop it off. There’s specific rules on what constitutes good service. The constables have a good understanding of that unfortunately it’s one of the more tricky areas. Take a look at the rules online as to what you need to do to complete service. But serve the complaint. Once you have served it then the defendant has 20-30 days depending on jurisdiction to answer. That means they have to go through and particularly in federal court you see how each fact is numbered and paragraph is numbered- they have to go through and either admit or deny each of those paragraphs or state they have insufficient information to admit/deny. And in your answer you have to do the same thing. If you cannot admit/deny because of insufficient information pls remember to deny say i have insufficient information to admit/deny that claim and therefore i deny it. If you  don't deny in federal court the court can treat a non-denial as an admission to that fact and you  don't want that to come back and haunt you during the case. What happens if the complaint is not answered within 20-30 days so say you get the complaint and  don't answer it. The plaintiff can go file a request for default after the time has expired and request that the court enter your default meaning at that point you cannot answer the complaint and ur gonna have to go to court and ask them to lift the default and if you  don't ask then the court will set a hearing for proof of damages at which point the plaintiff will go to court and present evidence of what the damages are and then the court can enter a judgment on the complaint and/or damages and that is the conclusion of the case, a very bad result. Always remember it’s important to answer these complaints. Also when you serve the complaint you will get back from the sheriff / a private process server proof of service showing they/a private process server have served the complaint. That needs to be filed with the court so it’s recorded with the court that the complaint has been served. They need that to enter the default. You have a certain amount of time in each jurisdiction in which to serve the complaint and if you don't serve in that amount of time the court can start dismissing it for failure to prosecute aka failure to take action or do anything- you can't just file a complaint and sit on it. The court wants you to serve it, wants to process it, and wants it out of there. They don't want people just filing complaints and not doing anything with them.

Read other articles we've written

Need professional and effective representation?