How to File a Lawsuit


A lawsuit is a civil legal action brought by one person (the plaintiff) against another (the defendant) to resolve a dispute. Depending on the remedy sought and where the case is filed, a lawsuit may be heard in a court of law or a court of equity.

A complaint, known as the initial pleading in a civil lawsuit, sets the factual and legal foundation for the entire case. A well-drafted complaint should include the specific legal claims that the plaintiff is bringing, as well as facts supporting those claims. In many cases, a successful complaint requires the claimant to plead that the defendant owed a duty to your client, breached that duty, and that the breach directly and proximately caused harm to your client.

The first page of a complaint should begin with the name of the federal district in which your suit is being filed, as well as the number and title of the case. This is called the “caption.” Most courts have a standard way that they want these captions to look, so check the Local Rules of your district.

Once the caption is complete, your next step will be to file a summons with the complaint. Most courts will also require you to provide a statement of your financial situation, because it is possible that you may need a grant to help pay for your lawsuit. In some situations, a plaintiff can request to be permitted to sue in forma pauperis (informal) without the need for any grants.

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