How to File a Lawsuit

The word lawsuit means a court case in which a person (called a plaintiff) sues another person or entity (called a defendant). The main goal of the suit is to get something called relief. Relief can include money, a court order to stop something, or both. Most Section 1983 and Bivens suits ask for both money damages and a declaration that someone’s rights were violated.

When you file a lawsuit, you must include a lot of facts about what happened to you. You also need to tell the judge where and when it happened. This part of the lawsuit is called the “caption.” Courts have different rules about how a caption should look. Check your court’s Local Rules for more information.

In the complaint, you must include your name and address. You also need to explain why you believe the law was violated. For example, you might write: “Upon information and belief, the defendants committed various violations of the plaintiff’s rights in violation of Section 1983 and Bivens.” You should not include any facts that are only your opinion or that you know from general prison knowledge. Instead, use the phrase “upon information and belief.”

You must also say whether you have used the prison’s grievance system. If you do not use the grievance system, you must explain why. The PLRA requires that you use the grievance system even if it does not give you the kind of relief you want. You can later file an amended complaint to add new claims about the same factual situation, but you must do so within the statute of limitations.

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