A legal complaint, also known as a pleading, is the first step in litigation. The complaint lays out the details of the case (the cause of action), describes the legal and factual basis of the case and commences the litigation. The complaint must be filed with the clerk of the court prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Make your complaint strong enough to survive a motion to dismiss by effectively communicating the wrongdoing by the party you're taking action against.
Create or obtain a complaint form. Some courts may have fill-in forms available. List the name of the state and county where the court is located, your name (the plaintiff) and the name of the defendant. Type the information about your case below this preliminary information. If using a form, you must select the applicable boxes and provide general information. It may be necessary to attach additional pages if your statement exceeds the space provided.
Draft the facts of your case. The facts will tell a story. Your statement should be clear, concise and should provide enough detail to support your legal theory. If you want to personalize the story, refer to yourself by name and depersonalize the defendant, where necessary, by referring to him as the defendant. It may also be effective to provide detailed information about any physical or mental injuries suffered.
Read More: How to Write a Sample Complaint to the Courts
Present the legal theory of your case. The legal theory is the legal basis for bringing the claim, such as unlawful discrimination, defamation or medical malpractice. The legal theory connects the facts with the law.
Make your request for relief. Relief is the legal remedy, such as enforcing a right you are entitled to or ordering a penalty, such as an injunction (prohibiting a person from doing something), payment of damages (punitive, compensatory, statutory or liquidated damages), attorneys' fees and court costs. For example, if you sustained injuries in a car accident you may request compensation, also known as damages, for medical treatment, pain and suffering, lost income and emotional distress. When requesting relief, you should ask the court to grant any additional relief that it determines is appropriate under the law. If the court rules in your favor, it will grant the relief that the facts of the case and the legal theory support.
Jessica McElrath has been a freelance writer since 2000. McElrath is the author of "The Everything John F. Kennedy Book" and "The Everything Martin Luther King Jr. Book." McElrath has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of California at Berkeley and a Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law.