Once you elect where you want to file, you would file a pleading with that court. The first pleading of the plaintiff is the complaint which lists the ground for jurisdiction, a statement of the claim, and a demand for relief. The defendant’s first pleading is an answer which responds to the claims against them and could also include counterclaims (against the plaintiff) or a crossclaim (a claim against a codefendant). The plaintiff or codefendant could then respond to those claims.
A complaint includes the grounds for jurisdiction.
The plaintiff needs to make a “short and plain” statement of a claim.
A complaint includes a demand, sometimes called a “prayer,” for relief.
Doe v. Smith
429 F.3d 706 (7th Cir. 2005).
Trial court dismissed pursuant to 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Did Doe properly state a claim?
According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8, it is enough to state a claim for relief.
The plaintiff properly stated a claim.
The plaintiff and the defendant were minors involved in an intimate relationship. The defendant had recorded one of these occasions with a video recorder without the consent of the plaintiff. When the relationship ended, he distributed the recording over email to others, again without the plaintiff’s consent. Upon learning of the video, the plaintiff sued.
The complaint was filed in federal court based on 18 USC § 2520 a federal claim against wiretapping. All other state law claims were brought under 28 USC 1367 supplemental jurisdiction.
The defendant countered by saying that a claim was not properly stated because not all the elements of the law were addressed in the claim. This argument was accepted by the district court and dismissed.
There is a quote from the case I find particularly insightful:
It is enough to state a claim for relief. . . Plaintiffs need not plead facts; they need not plead law; they plead claims for relief. Usually they need do no more than narrate a grievance simply and directly, so that the defendant knows what he has been accused of. Doe has done that; it is easy to tell what she is complaining about.
In other words, the claim does not need to include every element of the law. If the plaintiff could make an argument, then that is sufficient. Not every argument needs to be addressed. Here, the plaintiff could make an argument that the camera recorded audio and was intercepted. The fact that the term “intercepted” was not used in the complaint is immaterial.
Complaints can be fairly simple and straightforward. Although there is no requirement that they have to meet the elements of every claim they are making, the court suggests that it is a good idea to do so. As a result, if your words may imply or cause one to infer the the other element could be satisfied, it is sufficient.
This case is an example of how a criminal law may also have a civil remedy. On the civil side, these were the only claims available (the technology expanded faster than the law).
Additionally, this case is a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The defendant argues that the facts in the complaint are insufficient. This is because they do not argue the “interception” (not explicitly stated) in the facts.
The court disagrees. This is because there is enough information here for the defendant to know what they are being sued by. They also say that the facts here are clear enough for you to infer that the the camera had an audio function (which was required by the statute).
Stated differently, there only needs to be enough facts to make plausible the plaintiff’s arguments. The facts will be need to be proven at trial, but is not necessary during pleadings.
One other thing to note is that all allegations are numbered. The reason for this is so that the defendant can be precise in how they respond. The best practice is for each paragraph to be comprised of 1 sentence each.
Civil Procedure I talks a lot about what the Supreme Court has said about the civil procedure rules. Now, we turn to Civil Procedure II which focuses on how those rules are applied. So, this semester is going to be about all the practical parts of the rules. We will talk about how to write a complaint, how to file it, etc.
This semester, we will follow the life cycle of the case. Meaning, what are the stages of Civil Procedure?
Before you can move onto the next stage of proceedings, you need to complete the previous stage. That means, you have to finish pleadings before moving onto discovery. You need to finish discovery before moving into trial.
Pleadings are comprised of a complaint and an answer.
This process usually takes a few weeks. You are not allowed to begin discovery until a few weeks later.
The courts have built into the system times where the defendant can stop the progress. Put up a wall, so to speak. One of these walls is 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This motion is specifically used to attack a claim. The reason for this is to prevent unnecessary expenses for claims lacking merit. How does this work?
If a person is injured for something where there is no right to sue, or recover, there is no right. For instance, if a football fan is upset with a referee, they may feel hurt. However, they are not able to sue because there is no legal authority to do so. In other words, there is no claim.
So, the complaint needs to be written very well. This is called a “well-pleaded” complaint.
Now, the complaint lists facts. However, no facts are entered into the record at this time.
Pleadings must have three things in them according to Rule 8(a).
- State the jurisdictional grounds
- Simply state the claim and law out the facts supporting the claim
- Expound on the remedy of the claims.
After filing, you have 90 days to serve (Rule 4(m)). If you are not able to serve without that time, you have to receive an extension. Otherwise the claim is dismissed. The defendant has 21 days (in federal court) to answer. However, if the defendant waives the requirement of being served, then the defendant has 60 days to answer.
The answer has three things they can do:
- They can admit the claims
- Deny the claims
- Say that they do not know if the claim is true. Saying “I do not know” acts as a denial.
Finally, there are affirmative defenses. This means that the defendant must raise the issue. For example, a statute of limitations is a defense. If the statute of limitations has run, the plaintiff will not likely bring the issue. If the defense fails to raise the statute of limitations claim, then the right to raise the defense is waived.
Discovery lasts months and sometimes even years. This is where the majority of the work in a legal case is done.
This is the time when we find the facts.
Here we will focus on depositions, produce documents, give suppueanas, etc. This is also the time where witnesses are discovered and prepared.
After discovery, there is another hurdle the plaintiff must overcome. This is based on rule 56, summary judgment. Summary judgment is when the court determines that the plaintiff was not able to show that a reasonable jury would have a chance of ruling in their behalf. The purpose of this is to minimize costs of having a jury and a court to hear a case where the evidence is lacking.
This usually takes only a few days.
At trial, the case could be dismissed for lack of evidence. This is called “judgment as a matter of law.” It acts the same as rule 56. The reason why we have JMOL is because sometimes the evidence changes after discovery. An example of this happening is when a witness tells a false story during depositions, but tells the truth during a trial. If the truth changes the facts of events, it could mean that the evidence is insufficient to meet legal requirements.
We want to begin to look at the term allegation differently. In law, allegation simply means that it is a fact assertion. This is good, bad, etc. In a complaint, you do not need to state all the facts, only the ones that are relevant to obtaining a relief.
In civil procedure, the plaintiff must show the “preponderance of the evidence” which means “more likely than not” or 50.1%. But this happens at trial. At the pleading stage, all we want to do is share just enough facts to say that the plaintiff may have a claim here. In other words, we are asking, “has the plaintiff met the bare minimum levels?” If so, then it can move onto discovery.
To show this, the plaintiff needs to connect the facts, with the legal claim. Because of this, the job of the judge is a gatekeeper. Their purpose is make sure the facts and law align. If there is a law, but the facts do not support it, then it should also be dismissed.
A claim in the plaintiff is referred to as a “count”. For example “Count I,””Count 2,” or “Count 3.”
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.