What Are the First Steps in Filing a Civil Lawsuit?


Quick Answer

The first step in filing a civil lawsuit is determining where to file the case, states Nolo. Once the proper jurisdiction is identified, the plaintiff files a complaint with the court and serves a copy of the complaint on the defendant, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

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Full Answer

Plaintiffs filing civil suits must ensure the case is filed in the proper court; otherwise, it can be moved by the defendant or thrown out altogether, warns Nolo. A court must have subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction in order to hear a case. Subject matter jurisdiction means the court has the power to hear a certain type of case, while personal jurisdiction means that the court has power over the parties involved in a suit.

A civil complaint explains the basis for the case, describes how the court has jurisdiction and asks the court to order a judgment in the plaintiff's favor, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Before going to trial, the parties usually go through the discovery process, exchanging all information regarding witnesses and evidence. The judge also encourages the parties to settle the case prior to trial.

Since the process of discerning the proper court and filing a complaint is often complicated, individuals seeking to file a civil lawsuit should promptly contact an attorney for legal advice, says Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

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