Checklist For Drafting A Complaint

Before you can draft a complaint, you have to know what a complaint is. A complaint is an official document that’s used for the purpose of formally addressing an issue with another person or entity (usually within the same company). Complaints usually request relief from some form of wrong or damage that has been done by the other party.

A complaint will usually be written in an informal letter format, although it can also be presented in various other formats such as email, voicemail, or even text message. 

Once you have your complaint written down, you’ll need someone else who is familiar with legal issues to review it for accuracy and completeness before sending it off to anyone else outside of your immediate family or circle of friends. 

If you’re planning on filing a lawsuit against anyone soon then this would be the point where your lawyer might want to review everything first before submitting anything official like this on their behalf which they might not even do unless they feel like they need one.

So I wouldn’t worry about having them read this now unless there’s something specific about what I wrote here that might raise some interest from someone else reading it then maybe get them involved in helping me out too since I’m not sure how much time we’d have left before all hell breaks loose around us once again.

How To Draft A Civil Complaint
1. Understand the importance of a well-pleaded complaint as the foundation of a lawsuit.
2. Include essential elements such as parties’ identities, jurisdictional basis, and clear factual allegations.
3. Avoid common mistakes like vague allegations, incomplete party identification, and lacking jurisdiction clarity.
4. Utilize practical guidance to navigate the entire drafting process and address potential legal challenges.
5. Recognize jurisdiction-specific considerations to ensure compliance with varying rules and requirements.


Pleading is the formal way to communicate your view of a dispute to the court. It’s also called “pleading” or “complaint.” A pleading is the first document filed by each party in a lawsuit and sets forth that party’s version of events leading up to and including the filing of a lawsuit. 

The purpose of a pleading is to inform the other parties about what happened, why it was wrong, who did what wrong thing, why they should be held responsible for their actions, and how this lawsuit can help fix things.

All pleadings are written in formal language with numbered paragraphs (paragraphs 1 through 4; paragraphs 5 through 8). 

Each paragraph starts with an upper case letter identifying which part of the legal argument you’re addressing: for example ‘A’ means you’re claiming that something happened; ‘B’ means you’re explaining why it happened; ‘C’ means you’re suggesting ways in which someone else should fix their behavior so they don’t do this bad thing again (this part is called “relief”).

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The caption is the first thing people will see when they look at your complaint. It should be short, to the point, and include all of the information necessary for someone to understand what this document is about. The caption should contain:

The name of the court that issued it (the federal district court counter on top)

A three-letter abbreviation for your state (NY)

The case number assigned by the said court when you filed or transferred it there

A short title summarizing what’s going on in your complaint—not too long, but not too vague either. For example Smith v. Jones; John Doe v. Jane Doe et al., No. 1:12-cv-12345


Parties are individuals or entities that have been directly affected by the dispute and are therefore entitled to participate in litigation.

A real party is an individual or entity that has a direct interest in the outcome of a lawsuit. A real party must have suffered some type of injury as a result of another person’s actions and must be able to show concrete damages stemming from this injury.

A nominal party is someone who has been named by another person or entity as having no interest in the dispute but who was simply used as an agent on behalf of that other person or entity when they made some sort of agreement with another individual or organization (for example, if you signed up for Netflix without knowing it was actually through AT&T). 

In most cases, these nominal parties can be dropped from any lawsuit without affecting its overall standing because they do not actually possess any rights within said lawsuit (and because it would probably just make things more complicated).

An indispensable party is someone who has demonstrable ties to one side of an issue but cannot participate fully unless their interests are addressed alongside those already under consideration by both sides involved in litigation; for example: 

If John Doe sues Jane Roe for breach-of-contract following his failed attempt at buying her house next door because he felt like she hadn’t disclosed all relevant information about prior financial issues related to selling her property before closing on sale day itself.

Then Jane could argue against John’s claim based on evidence showing proof positive she had told him everything needed upfront during negotiations between herself and her former landlord before moving out into new digs themselves – proving both sides’ claims here!

When you’re in a situation that requires formal communication, such as addressing a dispute, a well-crafted complaint demand letter can be instrumental. Dive into our article on writing a complaint demand letter to discover the essential elements that make your message effective and impactful.


What court has jurisdiction over the case?

Your complaint will be filed in a court where you believe it belongs. If you are suing a defendant who lives in another state, then you should file your complaint in that state’s district court. 

The U.S. Constitution requires that state courts have original jurisdiction over cases between residents of different states when diversity exists (meaning one party is from one state and the other party is from another). 

However, if both parties live within the same state, then the federal district courts may have original jurisdiction over your case as well. For example, A Florida resident sues his brother-in-law for breach of contract; he files this lawsuit at the federal level because both parties reside in Florida (diversity).

If it turns out that neither party lives within any given court’s geographic boundaries, then all remaining options are available to them including arbitration or mediation and no specific venue needs to be selected at this point because nothing has been done yet! 

We’ll get back around to choosing where things go next once we know more about those potential choices later on down below.


The venue is where you file your complaint. It can be a federal or state court or even a federal agency. There are different rules for venue depending on whether your claim is based on diversity of citizenship and whether it’s over $75,000.

Generally speaking, the venue is proper in any state in which the defendant resides or transacts business. But there are exceptions to this rule:

Venue by consent means that both parties agree to have the case filed where it’s being held (this usually occurs when someone files suit against a corporation).

A court may dismiss an action based on the forum’s inconvenience if it determines that another forum (a foreign country) would be better suited to hear a case.

Some states allow plaintiffs who live outside their state but within its geographical boundaries to choose between bringing their lawsuits either in federal court or state court based solely upon where they live; this provision is known as “venue by defendant’s choice.”

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Causes Of Action

Causes of action are the reasons why you are suing your defendant. They can be based on either federal or state law, depending on where you live and what type of case it is. Common causes of action include:

breach of contract


fraud/misrepresentation (intentional misrepresentation)

Invasion Of Privacy

Causes of action may be listed as separate counts, or they can all be included under one count (e.g., “breach of contract”). 

Each count must state exactly how your claim is different from the others listed, for example, if you have separate claims for each breach in a contract situation, each count should clearly explain what was wrong with each breach or promise that was broken by the defendant.

Allegations Of Fraud Or Mistake

When to allege fraud or mistake. The courts do not want to be inundated with claims of fraud and mistake, so it is important that you only allege these when there is a reasonable basis for doing so. 

If a party makes false representations, however, they can be liable for fraud even if they did not intend to deceive anyone. You may also claim that the other side has made an error in some aspect of the case if you can show that an “honest person” would have acted differently under similar circumstances and this has resulted in real damage.

What should I say about my suspicions? Be specific about what facts led you to believe that there was something amiss with the other side’s conduct; don’t just say “I think” or “they might have done.” Give dates where applicable and explain why your suspicions are reasonable given those facts.

How do I prove it? Usually, all we need from clients is their best belief evidence which means telling us what led them to suspect fraud or mistake.* What happens if I can’t prove my suspicions? 

We will try our best but sometimes there simply isn’t enough evidence available at this stage of proceedings (or anywhere else) and some cases cannot go forward because of this fact alone.* Should I ask for help if no one else agrees with me? We recommend doing so anyway as it’s better than going through life believing someone did something wrong when he didn’t!

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Alternative Claims Or Remedies

Don’t assume that the court will know what you are suing for. If you are suing for breach of contract and fraud, include both claims in your complaint. If you are suing for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, including both claims in your complaint. If you are suing for breach of contract and negligence, include both claims in your complaint. 

The judge or jury needs to know why they should decide against the defendant or defendants in their decision-making process.

Relation Back Of Amendments Or Supplemental Complaints

When a complaint is amended or supplemental, it must relate to the original complaint. The purpose of relating is to give the court jurisdiction over the case and make sure that parties have notice of any changes that have been made in pleadings since they were originally filed.

When amending or supplementing a complaint, you should include an explanation for why you are doing so. For example, “[d]efendant was served with this lawsuit on June 5th but has failed to file an answer within 30 days as required by law. 

The court should therefore allow the plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend her complaint because the defendant has no valid defense against her claims.”

You can also include an argument about why including additional claims or parties can help you win your case: “Plaintiff believes these additional witnesses will provide information relevant to proving his case at trial.”

Prayer For Relief And Damages Sought

A Prayer for Relief is a statement of the relief sought by the plaintiff. It’s your chance to tell a judge what you need from them to resolve the issue at hand. For example: “Plaintiff requests an injunction ordering Defendant to immediately cease all activities that are interfering with Plaintiff’s business.”

In other words, your Prayer for Relief must include every single thing you want from the court that way if any one of those things doesn’t work out like planned, you still get something out of it!

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Limitations On Damages Claimed In Complaint (And Other Pleadings)

In many cases, the limitations period for a claim is the time limit within which the claim must be filed. The limitations period is determined by the facts of your case, so it’s important to speak with an experienced attorney before you file a complaint or other pleading to make sure that you’re not missing any deadlines. 

If you have been injured by someone else’s negligence, there may be different time limits depending on what state you live in. In some states, there are different statutes of limitations for personal injury claims and wrongful death cases, so it’s important to know all of the details about which statute applies to your situation.

Attachments To Complaint

An attachment to a complaint is not part of the complaint itself. It is typically a document that has been attached to the complaint, but it will not be included with the official record of your case unless it becomes part of the court file (i.e., if it’s filed).


When drafting a complaint, it’s important to be specific and detailed. You should also focus on making your claim clear and easy to understand. In addition, don’t forget that you should always keep in mind the purpose of your letter: what do you want from this person?

Take me through the checklist for drafting a letter.

In a friendly tone

Further Reading

Civil Procedure: How to Draft a Well-Pleaded Complaint Short video discussing the essentials of drafting a well-pleaded complaint in civil procedure.

Commencing a Lawsuit: Drafting the Complaint Checklist (GA) A comprehensive checklist for drafting a complaint when commencing a lawsuit, with a focus on Georgia jurisdiction.

Drafting a Complaint: Practical Guidance Practical guidance on drafting a complaint, covering key considerations and best practices.

And here’s the “FAQs” section:


How important is drafting a well-pleaded complaint in civil procedure?

Drafting a well-pleaded complaint is crucial in civil procedure as it sets the foundation for the entire lawsuit. It outlines the claims, facts, and legal theories, which can significantly impact the case’s success.

What elements should be included in a complaint when commencing a lawsuit in Georgia?

When drafting a complaint in Georgia, make sure to include essential elements like the parties’ identities, jurisdictional basis, factual allegations, and the specific claims being asserted.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when drafting a complaint?

Common mistakes include vague allegations, incomplete identification of parties, lacking a clear statement of jurisdiction, and not providing sufficient facts to support the claims.

How can practical guidance assist in drafting a complaint?

Practical guidance offers insights into the entire process of drafting a complaint, from structuring the document to addressing potential legal challenges, ensuring a comprehensive and effective submission.

Are there jurisdiction-specific considerations in drafting a complaint?

Yes, different jurisdictions may have specific rules and requirements for drafting complaints. It’s essential to be aware of these jurisdictional nuances to ensure your complaint is valid and effective.