Litigation Series, Part One: The Complaint

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Disputes are a part of life. Chances are you will find yourself considering whether to file a lawsuit against someone or someone will file a lawsuit against you. With that said, it is a good idea to have a basic understanding the processes involved in litigation. This article is part 1 of a series of articles dedicated to giving general information about the litigation process. This article will explain what a complaint is.

What is a complaint?

A complaint is the first legal document in a lawsuit. Essentially, the complaint will explain who the parties are to the lawsuit, why this lawsuit should be heard in this court, the facts of the lawsuit, and the legal reasons why you are suing this other person or company.

There are certain requirements for what needs to be contained in the complaint to make sure the complaint is valid for the court. For example, the “jurisdiction” requirement means you have to explain to the court why this lawsuit should be heard in this specific court and not another court. Because this is the first document that initiates a lawsuit, it is always a good idea to have an experienced attorney draft this document so you do not run into problems later in the lawsuit.

How to file the complaint?

Once the complaint is drafted and final, the person suing (the “plaintiff”) has to file this complaint in court. It is important to understand that each court has their own specific procedures to filing documents as well as fees associated with filing a complaint.

For example, in San Diego County, all complaints need to be filed along with a Civil Case Cover Sheet. The current filing fee in San Diego County for filing an unlimited jurisdiction case (disputed over $25,000) is $435. Before you file any document with the court, it is important to double-check what the correct procedures are for filing a complaint.

How to serve the complaint?

If you have successfully filed a complaint, your job is not finished yet. You will now need to “serve” the complaint (with a summons). The term “serve” is essentially a fancy legal term describing that the filed documents need to be delivered to the person being sued in the correct method. Failure to “serve” the documents correctly means the other party (the “defendant”) does not have any obligation to reply to the complaint.

Note that a party to the action cannot “serve” the documents. Rather, as plaintiff, you have to find someone at least 18 years of age to deliver the documents. Usually, you hire a “process server” to deliver the documents. There are complicated rules to serving court documents, so make sure you research the correct procedures.

Note: The information provided here is intended for informational purposes only and not legal advice. For specific circumstances, please consult an attorney.


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Eric Ching

Eric Ching, Esq. - Real Estate Attorney

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