The 411 on a Complaint

The Complaint is one of the most important legal documents in your case, as it controls not only the issues you’ll ultimately be able to argue at trial, but also the scope and extent of discovery. At motiondrafting.com we’ve seen a lot of Complaints (the good, the bad, and the plain ugly). Accordingly, we’ve put together a quick bullet point list of: (1) the components you’ll need to include in a legally sufficient complaint; and (2) a few quick practice pointers for your reference. 

Components

  • Caption: This is obvious. You need the name of the Plaintiff(s); the name of Defendant(s); the Court in which you’ll try the case; a place for the eventual case number; and a title of your pleading. 
  • Venue: You need to plead facts that establish proper venue in your Complaint. See Fla. Stat. 47.011 (2019). Do note, however, that non-Florida Defendants are not entitled to the protection conferred by Florida Statute. See Hand v. Ala. Farm Bureau Mut. Cas. Insur. Co., 382 So. 2d 121 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) (finding that a non-Florida resident defendant had “no venue privilege” and as such the action could be maintained in “any county in the State.”). 
  • Personal Jurisdiction: You need to plead facts that establish personal jurisdiction over each defendant in your Complaint. See Fla. Stat. 48.193 (2019). 
  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction: You need to plead facts that support subject-matter jurisdiction in your Complaint. In Florida, a county court has jurisdiction in actions where the amount in controversy is less than $15,000.00 exclusive of costs and fees. The Circuit Court has jurisdiction in actions where the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount stated above. Note, however, that the Statute for subject-matter jurisdiction was recently amended, and the amount in controversy is increasing incrementally in the next few years. See Fla. Stat. 34.01 (2019). 
  • General Allegations: Usually, a Complaint contains a short and plain “story” which gave rise to the litigation. This section should be short, succinct, contain only relevant information to your litigation, and be crafted toward getting admissions from your opponent in their response. 
  • Specific Counts: You’ll need to plead each cause of action in a separate count. Florida law prohibits “shotgun” style pleadings that attempt to combine multiple causes of action in a single count. You should clearly delineate which defendants each count applies to, and clearly state the facts upon which the allegation are based. 
  • Demand for Jury Trial: If you will be seeking a jury trial on any of your issues, and have more than equitable claims, you should demand a trial by jury in your complaint.
  • Signature Block: All pleadings and motions must be signed by the attorney who has composed the document. You’ll want to include your name, electronic signature (/s/ followed by your name), Florida bar number, office address, telephone number, and email address.

Tricks:

  • Be brief: Remember that all allegations in a Complaint are taken as true for the purpose of deciding a motion to dismiss. The more facts you plead (which are not relevant to your claims) the more ammunition your opponent has to support and sustain a motion to dismiss in response to your complaint.
  • Be succinct in your allegations: Remember that you are going to have an answer to your Complaint. You want to craft your allegations with that in mind. To that end, stringing together multiple allegations in a single numbered paragraph leaves room for the opponent/defendant to wiggle out of a clear admission. 
  • Consider your defendants: Remember that you want to put everyone possible “on the hook” in your Complaint. To that end, if you have a corporate defendant you’ll want to think about whether you can “pierce the veil” to obtain a judgment against the officers, directors, owners, etc of the corporation in their individual capacity. You’ll also need to think about whether any of those individuals committed fraud or intentional torts (and accordingly those individuals would not be able to avail themselves of limited liability). 
  • Don’t get bogged down: Remember that you don’t want to give away the kitchen sink in your initial pleading. Although you need to allege enough facts to support your allegations, you also want to avoid “giving it away for free”. For instance, if you have a breach of contract – attach the contract. You don’t need to attach 4783 other documents that include proposals, and other non-necessary documents. Keep in mind that this is not free discovery.

So, next time you are drafting a Complaint, keep these components and tricks in mind. To busy to put it together? Give us a call today; we’d love to support your firm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *