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Complaint — Definition

Hannah Locklear | April 10, 2023

A Complaint starts a debt lawsuit case.

Summary: A Complaint is a legal document that begins a civil lawsuit. So, if you’ve been sued for a debt, you should receive a Complaint that lists all the allegations against you. It’s your responsibility to respond to the Complaint before your state’s deadline. SoloSuit can help.

What is a Complaint?

In a legal context, a Complaint is a formal written document that initiates a civil lawsuit. It is a legal pleading that sets out the allegations and claims made by the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) against the defendant (the person being sued). The Complaint typically includes a statement of facts describing the plaintiff's case, the legal basis for the claim, and the relief sought by the plaintiff.

The Complaint must be filed with the appropriate court and served on the defendant to provide notice of the lawsuit and give the defendant an opportunity to respond. If the defendant does not respond to the Complaint within a specified time period, the court may enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. If the defendant does respond, the case will proceed through the legal process, including discovery, motions, and possibly a trial. The Complaint is a critical document in the lawsuit and serves as the foundation for the plaintiff's case.

If you’ve been sued, it’s up to you to respond to the Complaint with a written Answer. Keep reading to learn more about Complaints and how to respond to one.

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What is the difference between a Complaint and a lawsuit?

A Complaint is a formal written document that starts a civil lawsuit, whereas a lawsuit is the entire legal action or proceeding that may result from the filing of a Complaint.

The Complaint is the initial document filed by the plaintiff that sets out the allegations and claims against the defendant, as well as the relief sought by the plaintiff. It is essentially the plaintiff's argument for why they believe they have a legal claim against the defendant.

After the Complaint is filed, the defendant is given an opportunity to respond to the allegations and file any counterclaims or defenses they may have. This is followed by a period of discovery where both sides gather evidence and information to support their claims.

If the case is not resolved through settlement or alternative dispute resolution, the case will proceed to trial where a judge or jury will make a decision on the merits of the case. The entire legal action from the filing of the Complaint to the final resolution of the case is referred to as the lawsuit.

In summary, the Complaint is just one part of the larger legal action or lawsuit, which includes all of the subsequent legal proceedings and actions taken by both parties to resolve the dispute.

Is a Complaint the same thing as a petition?

While most states refer to the first document in a civil case as a Complaint, some states call it a Complaint a Petition, and other states may use the two names interchangeably. The two documents perform the same legal action, which is to initiate a civil case. Below is a list of states that refer to the Complaint as a Petition:

  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

It’s important to note that Petitions may also refer to other legal actions in some states. They may be used in various contexts, such as family law, immigration law, and administrative law. For example, a Petition for a writ of habeas corpus is a legal document that is used to challenge a person's detention or imprisonment.

So, while a Petition and a Complaint may both be legal documents used to seek relief or initiate a legal action, they are not always the same thing. A Complaint is specific to civil lawsuits, while Petitions may be used in various legal contexts.

What happens if someone does not respond to a Complaint?

If someone does not respond to a Complaint in a civil lawsuit, the court may enter a default judgment against them.

A default judgment is a judgment that is entered in favor of the plaintiff because the defendant has failed to respond to the Complaint or otherwise defend against the lawsuit. This means that the plaintiff may be awarded the relief they requested in the Complaint without any opposition from the defendant.

Before a default judgment can be entered, the plaintiff must typically file a motion for default judgment with the court and show that the defendant was properly served with the Complaint and had sufficient time to respond. If the court finds that the defendant has indeed failed to respond or defend against the lawsuit, it may enter a default judgment.

It is important to note that a default judgment can have serious consequences for the defendant, including monetary damages and other legal remedies. Therefore, if someone is served with a Complaint, it is important that they respond in a timely manner or seek legal advice if they are unsure about how to proceed.

Respond to a debt lawsuit and win

If you have been served with a debt lawsuit, it is important to respond promptly and appropriately. Here are six tips you can use to answer a debt lawsuit:

  1. You don't need to give a detailed answer: The Answer is a brief document. It isn't the place to tell your life story or give your entire defense. Be as straight to the point as you can be.

  2. Never admit debt liability: The complaints document comes with numbered paragraphs. Respond to every paragraph. You have three options: deny, admit, or deny for lack of knowledge. As a rule of thumb, lawyers advise you to deny, deny, deny. Let the plaintiff prove your responsibility for the debt.

  3. Include your affirmative defenses: These are reasons why you think the plaintiff is wrong to sue you. Assert your affirmative defenses for each paragraph. You don't make these up; there are options. For example, you don't owe the debt, you already paid part of it, the statute of limitations has expired, or you need the plaintiff to provide proof.

  4. Use standard formatting or "style: Court documents need to be formatted in a certain way. For instance, an answer will include the defendant's (your) name, physical and email address, name of the court, the identity of the plaintiff, case title, and case serial number. The spacing and page format should also follow an acceptable style for the answer to be considered professional. If you're having trouble, you can use SoloSuit's template.

  5. Include the certificate of service: A brief document containing the name of the court, the name of the plaintiff, and the date you're sending it. If the plaintiff has an attorney, you should serve the attorney and not the company.

  6. Make sure you sign the document: The document is null and void if you don't sign it. A signature means that you accept the document as true, or you have reason to believe that everything you filled in is accurate. You may print and sign manually or sign it electronically before you mail the letter.

Once you've completed these steps, make sure to file the official Answer with the clerk of court and send a copy to the plaintiff. You should make two copies of the answer, one to mail to the court and the other to the creditor suing you. Use certified mail so that you are notified when both parties receive their mail. For more information, watch the following video.

It is important to respond to a debt lawsuit in a timely and appropriate manner to avoid a default judgment being entered against you. If you are unsure about how to respond or have questions about the legal process, SoloSuit can help.

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You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.

SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.

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