Legal Documents Needed to Sue

By Maggie Gebremichael

There are multiple types of courts that adjudicate lawsuits. For instance, you might be able to file a lawsuit in family, small claims, civil, criminal, district, county or federal court. If you are suing an individual for breach of contract with total damages of $3,000, you usually are able to file that case in small claims court, without the help of an attorney, or in a civil court. While there are different reasons to select one court over another, each court typically requires legal documents to initiate and support a lawsuit.

Basics

Courts rules highlight required documents. For instance, if you are filing a lawsuit in a federal court, you must prepare a complaint that describes the reason(s) why you are suing (facts), the relief that you are seeking, and the basis for jurisdiction (why the court has the power to hear and decide the case). Your case might be presented before one judge who requires all parties to file an agreed scheduling order within 30 days, while another judge in the same courthouse might not have the same requirement. To minimize errors and avoid irritating the judge, contact the court that will hear your case to determine how its rules are made available to the public, perhaps as a hard copy pamphlet or a document on its website that is downloadable.

Evidence

When you initiate a lawsuit, the burden is on you to prove your case. Legal documents are used to support your claims. These can be a variety of things, such as wills, contracts, witness testimony, or emails. For example, if you were the victim of an illegal foreclosure, you might have a viable claim against a mortgage company. To satisfy your burden of proof, you might gather evidence such as your original promissory note, last communication with the mortgage company, or proof that you were working with the company to modify your loan. If you are suing a former landlord because your deposit was not returned, then you should have a copy of your rental agreement, proof that you paid the deposit (e.g., cancelled check), and ideally photographs or a recording to demonstrate the initial and final conditions of the unit that you rented.

Preparing a Document

Although each court has its own requirements, you will be required to submit documents to the court to start the proceeding. You must prepare a document using correct spelling, grammar and clear organization. It might be useful to number the points that you are making. For instance, when filing for divorce, the first bullet should disclose your name, date of birth, residential and mailing address, along with your phone number. Point No. 2 must include your spouse's name, date of birth, address, and contact number. Point No. 3 might highlight the date and place -- city, county, state -- of marriage. Point No. 4 will state why the marriage cannot be resolved. Another point should describe the full legal name and date of birth of any minor children involved in the divorce.