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Litigation Corner: What's a Complaint?

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Liza C. Moore
Foster Swift Agricultural Law Update
June 17, 2014

A person or business begins a civil (not criminal) lawsuit by filing a document called a complaint with a court. The complaint alleges how the court has the authority to decide the case(jurisdiction), why this court is the correct geographic location for the case (venue), what claims or counts will be pursued(such as breach of contract or defamation), and what money or other relief(damages) the person or business filing the complaint wants to obtain in the lawsuit.

The person or business filing the complaint is called the plaintiff, and the person or business the plaintiff wants money or relief from is called the defendant. The complaint will ask for a jury trial if the plaintiff wants a jury trial. Where the complaint is filed depends on the dollar amount of the claimed damages, the type of claims alleged by the plaintiff, and where the plaintiff and defendant live or do business.

The plaintiff will have to take steps to have the complaint filed and served on the defendant within a certain amount of time. Then, the defendant must respond within a certain time or a default will enter. Remember, if someone serves you with a complaint, or you think you need to file a complaint, call your attorney.