How to make a civil court case

Updated November 22, 2016

You make a civil court case by filing a civil complaint against one or more defendants and then formally serving those defendants with a copy of the complaint. The complaint can cover any legal or equitable claim, including an injunction, a claim for money damages, or a combination of both.

Locate the court that you want to file the lawsuit in. Most likely this will be a state court, but it may also be a federal district court if you are suing under federal law, or if you are suing a defendant located in another state.

Get a copy of the court's Rules of Civil Procedure. If you are in federal court, you need the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; if you are in state court, you need that state's Rules of Civil Procedure.

Purchase a legal reference manual that covers the area of law that you are suing under and also, ideally, is specific to the state court that you are suing in.

Locate a complaint form. Ideally, you want a form of complaint that makes a claim similar to the claim you are going to make.

Fill out the complaint with all of the required information. You will need to follow all of the Rules of Civil Procedure requirements relating to the form and content of the complaint.

Sign the complaint and file the original version with the court.

Serve your defendant(s) with a copy of the complaint. Most Rules of Civil Procedure require you to serve the defendant(s) within 120 days of the date you file the complaint.


There are two major aspects of a lawsuit. The first is the substantive area of law, such as family law, contract law, business law, or whatever else is the subject matter of your lawsuit. The second is the court's procedural rules. A good reference manual should cover both aspects of your lawsuit.


If you make either a substantive or procedural mistake, you very well could lose your lawsuit. This is why a good reference manual is so critical. If you ever have a question, you should first call the court clerk's office and see if they will help you, and if they won't, you need to do some research before taking the next step. Even minor mistakes, such as filing documents a day or two late, can result in dismissal of your case.

Things You'll Need

  • Legal reference manual
  • Form of complaint
  • Defendant's address
  • Court location and contact information
  • Rules of Civil Procedure
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About the Author

The Constitution Guru has worked as a writer and editor for "BYU Law Review" and "BYU Journal of Public Law." He is an experienced attorney with a law degree and a B.A. degree in history with an emphasis on U.S. Constitutional history, both earned at Brigham Young University.