Plaintiff’s Civil Lawsuit
Bringing a lawsuit in district court involves a lot of different steps. In order to be successful, a
self-represented litigant must be prepared to:
Correctly identify the defendant (and, if suing a business, make sure to have the official
name of the business as registered at the Secretary of State’s office)
Identify the law (statute or case-law) that the defendant violated.
Clearly state the relief you would like (i.e., what you want the judge to order the
defendant to do as a result of the defendant’s violating the law)
Identify the law or statute which gives the judge the authority to give you the relief you
Write down the entire story with all the details, even the small ones.
Make a complete list of the evidence that supports your position.
Based on the above, complete a “Summons and Complaint and Affidavit of Service”
o Prepare the summons, which identifies the plaintiff (you) and the defendant(s) and
tells the defendant that you are suing them
o Prepare the Complaint, which has two parts: 1) a statement of facts which shows why
the plaintiff should get what he/she is asking for and 2) a statement of what the
plaintiff is asking for. Some tips for completing a persuasive complaint:
- Number each paragraph, starting with the number “1”
- State your name and address
- State the name and address of the defendant
- Tell the court what happened between you and the defendant. Look
at what you prepared above and choose the most important facts.
You don’t have to include every detail at this point. (Remember to
break this out into short paragraphs)
- Tell the court the exact law (statue or caselaw) that applies.
- In your request to the court (which also includes numbered
paragraphs, starting with the number “1”), you might say,
“Judgment against defendant for $____, interest, costs and
disbursements” or “that the defendant be ordered to [______]” (tell
the court what you want the defendant to do). The request needs to
list all the things you want which will completely correct the
problem for you that the defendant created.
o Arrange for someone or the sheriff to give the defendant a copy of your
paperwork. This is called “service.” The person who does the “service” will
need to complete an “affidavit of service.”
o Keep the original Affidavit of Service in case you need it later.
The lawsuit officially begins the day that the Summons and Complaint are served
upon the defendant. The defendant has 20 days to respond to your Summons and
Complaint. If the defendant response, try to work out a solution. If you work out a
solution, you may not need to file the lawsuit or pay the $252 filing fee; you may get
everything you want, or even enough of what you want, to make filing the law suit
If the defendant does not reply within 40 days, you may ask the court to enter a
default judgment against the defendant.
If the defendant responds, and you are not able to work out an agreement, and you
want to continue the law suit, you will need to complete the following steps.
File the case with the Clerk of Court (the original Summons, the Complaint, and the
Affidavit of Service). This will cost $252, unless you are at a certain level of poverty,
in which case you may complete a document to ask the court to let you file for free.
The document is called an Affiavit of Informa Pauperis.
Watch your mail for a “Notice of Judicial Assignment.” This will tell you the name
of your judge. Call the judge’s clerk to ask how the judge will handle the case. Some
judges will send both parties a “scheduling order” telling you timelines for doing
certain tasks. Other judges will wait for you to ask for a court date.
If the judge sends out a schedlign order, be prepared to comply with the order. If the
judge waits for you to set a court date, you will need to complete a “Notice of
Hearing” and then serve it upon the defendant. (This service may be by mail, but it
still must be done by someone other than you, and you will need another Affidavit of
Service to give to the court.)
In either event, the judge will eventually give you and the other defendant deadlines
for the following tasks:
o Sending requests for information to each other, called “Discovery.” Discovery
takes the form of “Interrogatories,” “Requests for Production of Documents” and
“Requests for Admissions.” For help on these forms, you may consult the “Rules
of Civil Procedure” available at any law library or online at www.mncourts.gov.
o Answering the other party’s request for information (usually between 30 and 45
days from when you receive it.)
o Giving each other a complete list of all witnesses you will be asking to testify.
o Preparing any pre-hearing “motions” (or requests to the court), including Motions
to Dismiss and Motions for Summary Judgment. For help on these forms, you
may consult the Rules of Civil Procedure available at any law library or online at
o Telling the court how much time you think you need to give your testimony, call
your witnesses, and present any other evidence (such as exhibits). To understand
what you may present as “evidence” in a courtroom, you may consult the “Rules
of Evidence” available at any law library or online at www.mncourts.gov.
Prepare your evidence carefully for the trial. You will not have a nother chance to present
all your evidence. You must bring everything you want the judge to consider to this hearing,
including witnesses and exhibits.
Prepare your arguments carefully for the trial. This is usually your only chance to tell the
judge why the law supports your request and why the judge should give you the relief you want.