Step 2: Filing Suit
A litigant kicks-off a lawsuit by filing a "Complaint."
This pleading contains the plaintiff’s primary allegations and shows that she is entitled to relief. State and federal pleading requirements differ. But, at a minimum, the Complaint should allege enough facts to show that the court has subject matter jurisdiction in the case and should contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to the relief requested.
Yet, even when alleging the elements of a claim, the plaintiff does not have to recite evidence or a plethora of details. In most cases, complaints only need to apprise the defendant of the general nature of the case. The parties will have plenty of time to discover the underlying facts during the "discovery" phase of the litigation process.
In our Paula Plaintiff v. Donald Defendant lawsuit, the Complaint may contain the following allegations:
|PAULA PLAINTIFF |
324 Street Name
|IN THE |
|* * * * * * * * * * * *|
Plaintiff Paula Plaintiff, by her undersigned counsel, sues Defendant Donald Defendant, and says:
1. Plaintiff Paula Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of the State of Pennsylvania.
2. Defendant Donald Defendant is a citizen and resident of the State of Maryland.
3. On April 1, 2001, Defendant was operating her vehicle southbound on Main Street in Baltimore City, Maryland.
4. Although he had a duty to operate his vehicle with reasonable care and due regard for the safety and security of other persons and property, Defendant negligently breached this duty by failing to operate his vehicle with care and violently struck the rear of Plaintiff’s vehicle as it proceeded along the same roadway.
5. Among other things, Defendant failed to properly observe oncoming traffic, operated his vehicle at an excessive rate of speed, failed to comply with applicable laws regulating the operation and movement of motor vehicles, and failed to maintain proper control of his vehicle.
6. As a proximate result of Defendant's negligence, Plaintiff sustained substantial injuries, medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages.
WHEREFORE, Paula Plaintiff demands judgment against Donald Defendant for One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00), plus interest and the costs of this action.
This simple pleading may be conclusory, but is satisfies all of the requirements that the plaintiff state a legal cause of action. Although the plaintiff may allege almost anything in the Complaint, allegations alone do not win lawsuits -- evidence does! Thus, the plaintiff still has the burden of producing enough evidence to prove her case regardless of how well her complaint has been drafted. Similarly, although anyone can claim $1,000,000.00 in damages by placing this figure into her pleading, the plaintiff must prove these damages in order to recover such monumental sums.
Of course, life is not always as simple as the Complaint which Paula has filed against Donald. In the real world, life is complex. Disputes arise between many different people who may have many different claims to assert against each other. Rather than forcing all of these parties to divide these claims into many different lawsuits, the Maryland Rules, like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, promote judicial economy by permitting parties to join many different claims and many different parties in a single suit. To use these joinder devices effectively, one must understand the requirements for using them and how they work.
Joinder of Claims
The first set of joinder devices, which permit the joinder of multiple claims in a single lawsuit, include the Counterclaim, Cross Claim and Third Party Claim.
This includes any claim against an already opposing party. Thus, if Paula sues Donald and Donald has a claim for relief against her, he may return the favor by shooting a litigation arrow right back at his litigious attacker.
While the Federal Rules actually require the defendant to file a counterclaim that arises out of the same transaction or occurrence as the original claim, and will not permit such claims to be filed in a separate lawsuit, Maryland does not recognize counterclaims as “compulsory” or as “permissive.” Hence, under the Maryland Rules, an adverse party may bring his claim in the form of a counterclaim, or may decide to sue separately.
This involves a claim against a co-party that arises out of the same transaction occurrence as P's original claim.
Third Party Claims
Also known as an "impleader" action, this is a claim by D against E, a person who is not yet a party to the action, alleging that E is or may be liable for all or part of P's claim against D.
By definition, a Third Party Claim must be transactionally related to the original claim or it will be stricken.
Joinder of Parties
The second set of joinder devices permit many different parties to join in a single lawsuit. There are times when such joinder is permitted and times when it is actually required. Other joinder devices allow non-parties to intervene in existing litigation, or to join rival claimants and force a dispute to be resolved. Finally, the Maryland and the Federal Rules permit class actions in which numerous plaintiffs, or even defendants, may sue or be sued in a mammoth piece of litigation.
|Parties may either join as plaintiffs or be joined as defendants in the same lawsuit if  the right to relief arises from the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences; and  they present at least one common question of law or fact.|
|If P only sued D and E, but didn't sue F, is F a "required party"? While this may be a complex question, courts will generally require that a party be joined in an action where they cannot grant complete relief in that party's absence, where existing parties might incur inconsistent obligations, or where the absent party's interests would be impaired if he was not joined in the action. In any of these scenarios, the court will require that the party be joined in the action. However, if that person cannot be joined in the action for some reason [perhaps due to a lack of personal jurisdiction], can we proceed without him, or must we dismiss the case? This depends on whether the court can shape the relief so as to protect the interests of existing litigants and those who have not been joined. If so, the show must go on. If not, the absent parties are indispensable and we cannot live without them.|
|If P only sued D and E, but didn't sue F, does F have a right to intervene as a defendant in the case? If Q did not initially join as a plaintiff, does Q have a right to intervene as a plaintiff in the case? This type of "intervention as of right" depends upon whether the interests of F and Q are  adequately represented by existing parties; and  whether their interests may be impaired if they cannot enter the fray! The court may permit them to intervene if they present a common question of law or fact and their intervention will not prejudice existing parties. This latter type of intervention is called "permissive intervention."|
What if you owe money to someone else, but aren't sure of exactly who is truly entitled to it? Pay one and take your chances against the other? Risky. Pay half to each? Okay, if you're King Solomon. Pay double so that both claimants are satisfied? No way!
To prevent multiple liability, the holder of money or property may use the interpleader to deposit it with the court, join adverse claimants and let them each stake their claim to the proceeds! Life insurance companies often find this useful when rival family members each stake claims to the proceeds of the policy. To avoid risk, the stakeholder joins rival claimants and walks away without fear.
One variation on interpleader, called an "action in the nature of interpleader," allows the stakeholder to assert her own claim to the stake in addition to joining adverse claimants. However, unlike regular interpleader, a stakeholder who asserts her own claim to the stake is not entitled to attorney's fees to reimburse her for the expense of joining adverse claimants.
Where the above joinder devices are unfeasible, extremely big cases can sometimes be managed in the form of class actions. But, make sure that the prerequisites for class actions are met and that the suit fits one of the three types of class action lawsuits. The prerequisites for class actions are as follows:
Once these four prerequisites are met, courts will certify the class action into one of three basic types of lawsuits:
Regardless of whether your case is a simple action between two parties fussing over a single claim or a more complex dispute, the most important thing to remember when it comes to filing lawsuits is that they must be filed within a certain period after the claim arose. Each state and many federal statutes contain what are called "statutes of limitation," which place strict time limits on filing suit. After this time has expired, no further action may be taken to recover damages or other forms of relief.