How to Write a Legal Complaint Form

Updated April 17, 2017

A legal complaint is the first pleading filed in a civil lawsuit. A complaint alleges that a defendant has wronged a plaintiff, whether intentionally or unintentionally and that the plaintiff is entitled to recourse under the law. Some courts provide plaintiffs with standard complaint forms to complete. The content, format and style of a complaint depends upon the local rules of the court.

Consult the local rules of the court. There are different standards for pleadings, depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, federal court complaints must establish jurisdiction through a statute. Complaints filed in state court are often required to include certain headings and captioned information, such as jurisdiction and venue. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides guidelines for complaints filed in federal court.

Indicate the style of the case. The style of the case is the party names, in the format of “Plaintiff vs. Defendant.” Importantly, you must list all plaintiffs and defendants. In subsequent pleadings, it will suffice to list only the first name of the plaintiff and defendant, followed by “et. al.”

Cite the code(s) or statute(s) entitling you to relief under the law. State all the facts establishing the cause of action.

State the prayer for relief. The prayer is simply what recourse (often monetary) you're seeking from the defendant. For instance, if the complaint relates to a motor vehicle accident in which you incurred damages, the prayer would indicate the financial compensation for which you claim the defendant is liable.

Sign the complaint. Some jurisdictions require that the complaint be signed in the presence of a notary public commissioned by the state in which the complaint is being filed. Certify service by signing again underneath a paragraph indicating that a true and accurate copy of the complaint is or will be served upon any and all defendants according to the rules of the jurisdiction.

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About the Author

Audrey Farley began writing professionally in 2007. She has been featured in various issues of "The Mountain Echo" and "The Messenger." Farley has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Richmond and a Master of Arts in English literature from Virginia Commonwealth University. She teaches English composition at a community college.