Step 1. Drafting and Serving the Complaint
A complaint is the initiating document that lays out a plaintiff's claims. It informs the defendant and the court how the plaintiff has been wronged by the defendant and how the plaintiff should be compensated. After you file the complaint, you will need to formally serve a copy of the complaint as well as a 'summons', on the defendant, which makes them legally obligated to respond to the allegations in the complaint.
Some examples of common civil lawsuits are:
- Breach of Contract
- Unpaid Wages
- Wrongful Termination
- Race/Sex Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Defamation (slander/libel)
Once a defendant has been served with a summons and complaint, they will need to file a response (known as an 'Answer') in the same court where the complaint was filed.
Step 2. Pretrial Motions
Occasionally, a defendant may want to file a motion to dismiss, a motion to strike, or another pretrial motion before filing an answer to the plaintiff's complaint.
For example, if the defendant feels the complaint fails to properly allege all the elements of a claim for relief, they can file a motion to dismiss the case, forcing the plaintiff to respond and inform that court why their case should be allowed to proceed.
Step 3. Filing an Answer to the Summons and Complaint
If the defendant does not file an early motion, they will need to respond to the allegations in the complaint. Once served, they will need to file an answer within the time indicated in the summons (usually around 30 days).
If a defendant ignores a summons, the plaintiff can seek a default judgment and ask the court to award the plaintiff all of the damages they alleged in their complaint. In their answer, the defendant will either admit or deny the specific allegations made against them in your complaint. They may also allege affirmative defenses and counterclaims against the plaintiff.
Step 4. Sending and Responding to Requests for Production
Once the answer has been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other. These disclosures are made by each party sending the other a 'Request for Production of Documents’ wherein they ask for specific documents that are relevant to the case. Our 'How to File a Lawsuit' form package contains forms, samples, and instructions on how to send and respond to requests for production. Discovery often includes depositions of witnesses as well.
Step 6. Presenting your Evidence in Court
After discovery is complete, a hearing or trial will be set and both sides will present their case to a judge, jury, or private arbitrator. This includes submitting exhibits and interviewing witnesses.
Once both sides are finished presenting their claims and defenses, the judge or jury will find in favor of one party or the other.
Represent Yourself In Court
Our legal guides will show you how to file a civil complaint, respond to a civil summons/complaint, send and respond to requests for production, introduce exhibits, offer objections, and interview witnesses at a hearing or trial. All without an attorney.
Our guide contains ten separate modules, each detailing a specific step of the legal process. It also includes forms, samples, and templates. Click on the 'view product details' button below for more information.