How to File a Civil Complaint in Court

Justice can prevail in a civil courtroom.
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A civil complaint is a lawsuit filed in a court that handles civil matters. Unlike a criminal lawsuit, a civil complaint deals with disputes between individuals or business entities. Common civil lawsuits are matters such as auto accident claims, breach of contract and defamation claims. The suit may be argued in front of a judge or a jury, depending on both parties' preferences. Complaints in a small claims court are heard only by a judge.

Find the proper court in which to file.

Examine the nature of your claim and the proper court in which to file, ensuring that the court has jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties involved. Every county will have designated courts to hear civil matters, which typically are disputes between individuals or business entities. A small claims court can hear minor claims and are tried only before a judge; if you desire a jury trial, you must request one in a court that allows jury trials. You also must reside in the county in which you file.

The complaint should be formatted properly.

Format your complaint in an organized manner. The complaint will outline your claim and the damages against the defendant. The first section will be the name of the court where filed. For example, it would read as follows, "In The Seventh District Civil Circuit Court Madison County." The second section would name the parties and their respective addresses. The third section would be headed "The Plaintiff's Allegation of Facts", in other words, your facts asserted against the defendant. The facts may be a breach of contract, an auto accident or any wrongful act. The fourth section would be "The Allegation Of Damages And Prayer For Relief." The damages section will outline your damages and include the verdict you want the court to render. If you request a jury trial, this should be included in bold print somewhere on the complaint. After your complaint is complete, you will then sign and date. Make several copies.

Read More: Legal Forms to File for Defamation of Character

The defendant needs to know the wrong being asserted.

Write out all the facts relied upon by you to support your complaint against the defendant. Allegations of fact are usually listed in short paragraphs, with each paragraph numbered sequentially. Include specific dates and the details of any wrongful actions to support your complaint. Ensure the defendant has ample notice of why she is being sued. And, likewise, explain the damages you are asserting and what legal relief you are asking the court to grant. If your claim is nominal and you are filing in a small claims court, this usually will only be a one-page form and the details need not be quite as specific.

File your complaint and have it served on the defendant.

File your complaint with the proper court and have the court's clerk issue a summons to the defendant. Pay a filing fee, which varies from court to court. The summons and your complaint will then be served by a sheriff's deputy or private process server. Whoever serves the papers will note the date of service on the summons and return it to the court of filing. The defendant will then have a certain number of days to file a written response. Small claim lawsuits do not usually require an answer, and the summons to the defendant will merely designate the initial trial date in the near future.