If you allege that someone has defamed your character, you can take action by filing a civil lawsuit. In nearly every state, civil lawsuits are filed with the same forms, regardless of the subject matter of the cause of action. Plaintiffs who have been defamed must submit a complaint pleading that details the facts of the case, the applicable state or federal law and why the court should find in his favor. You must submit these to the clerk with a summons that is then served upon the defendant.
Most states require the plaintiff to file an affidavit form which certifies that the defendant has been properly served and is on notice of the pending lawsuit. These three forms are the only forms you need to begin a defamation lawsuit.
Complaint Pleading Form
The most important form to file in a suit for defamation is the plaintiff's complaint form. Each state civil procedure code will provide details as to exactly what the format of a complaint should look like. Each state requires virtually identical information in civil complaint forms. First, the form must include the plaintiff and defendant's full legal name as well as the court where the plaintiff is filing the suit.
Then, the complaint must list short and plain statements of fact to inform the court of the general details surrounding the defamatory incident. These don't need to be overly detailed, as there will be time to expand upon the details at the trial. Second, the plaintiff must include the state statute or code listing defamation as a cause of action. Lastly, the complaint should connect the unique set of facts to the state law that explains why the plaintiff should recover in this situation.
Attach a Summons
A summons is a simple legal form filed with any civil complaint which "summons" the defendant to appear in court to defend against plaintiff's defamation claims. The summons is always attached to the complaint when submitted to the court. It explains to the defendant that he has a certain number of days, usually 20 or 30, to answer the complaint and to file his pleadings in to the court. The document details the plaintiff's and defendant's identity and warns the defendant that his failure to answer will result in a judgment against him.
Read More: How to Answer a Civil Court Summons
Affidavit of Service
It is imperative that all defendants to a defamation lawsuit receive copies of both the complaint and summons. The complaint informs the defendants of the nature of the claims against them, and the summons describes the penalties if the defendant does not answer. A court of law will not hear a defamation suit if the defendant was not properly served in accordance to what the state code required. When the defendant receives the complaint and summons, he must sign an affidavit which signifies that he received the documents and is aware of the lawsuit. The process server usually returns the affidavit of service to the court, where it is then filed in the case file.
Further Forms to Proceed
A defamation lawsuit will require different forms, depending on the nature of the case and the response of the defendant. In some cases, parties will file motions before the trial that relate to various points of conflict or issues that have arisen. When parties refuse to turn over evidence during discovery, the court routinely files motions to compel. Motions to suppress are also filed when one party believes the other party's proposed evidence violates constitutional rules or the rules of evidence.
An attorney can help you with this process at any step along the way.
- Sunstein Law; Defamation, Commercial Disparaging and False Advertising; Huston and Peck
- Turkish American Legal Defense Fund: Lewy v. Southern Poverty Law Center Complaint
- Delaware Courts: Sample Summons
- New Jersey Judiciary: Affidavit of Service Form
- United Defense Group: Sample Motion to Suppress Evidence
- OpinionFront: Legal Procedure to Know While Suing for Defamation of Character
Stephanie Reid has been writing professionally since 2007, with work published in the Virginia Bar Association's "Family Law Quarterly" and the "Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy." She received her Juris Doctor from Regent University and her Bachelor of Arts in French and child development from Florida State University. Reid is admitted to practice law in Delaware and Maryland.