Deciding Who To Sue

Learn how to identify the correct person or business you need to sue, and get tips on how to name them correctly in your court case.


Overview

Identifying and suing the correct "defendant" (the person or company you believe owes you money) is one of the most important steps in your case. Click to jump to Choosing My Defendants below to learn more.

Once you decide who to sue, you must figure out how that person should be named in your complaint. Click to jump to Naming A Person As A Defendant below to learn more.

If you are suing a business, finding the business’s correct legal name can be tricky and might take some work. Click to jump to Naming A Business As A Defendant below to learn more.


Choosing My Defendants

You can sue more than one defendant for the same incident or contract. But each defendant must have some actual interest in the subject of your case and must be (at least arguably) responsible somehow for your injury.

Broadly speaking, if you sue because of a breach of a contract, the defendant will usually be the person or business you contracted with. For example, in a case involving the breach of a lease, the defendant will typically be either the property owner (if the tenant is suing) or the tenant who signed the lease agreement (if the landlord is suing). In a case alleging some type of personal injury or damage to property, the defendant will usually be the person or business who actually caused the injury or damage (for example, the person who hit your car or broke your window).

But there are a number of legal theories that could apply to your case that might increase or decrease the number of potential defendants.

  • “Necessary” Defendants

Some defendants are “necessary,” and you have to include them in your case. (NRCP 19; JCRCP 19.) Generally speaking, a defendant is necessary if the court will be unable to make a complete determination of the controversy if the person is absent from the case.

For example, pretend you are suing because there is a dispute about a piece of land that you thought you purchased from a husband and wife. In your case, both husband and wife would need to be named as defendants. They both have an ownership interest in the land. They both have the right to protect their ownership interest. And if one of them is not involved, the court could not make a clear and final decision about who actually owns the land. There would always be some unaccounted-for ownership interest floating out there.

  • “Permissive” Defendants

A "permissive" defendant is someone who might not be necessary to your case, but who it makes sense to include because your dispute with them arose from the same incident or transaction that caused your dispute with the other defendants, and there will be some question of law or fact that applies to all defendants in the case. (NRCP 20; JCRCP 20.) It is simply more convenient for you and the court to decide all your claims arising from the same incident together, rather than in separate lawsuits.

Think again of the example above about your lawsuit against the husband and wife. Now imagine there was a real estate broker involved when you purchased the land, and you think the broker mishandled the deal and cost you money. The broker may not be necessary to your case. But your dispute with the broker, the husband, and the wife arises from the same transaction: Your purchase of the land. Factual questions about the purchase will have to be decided, and they will apply to the husband, the wife, and the broker. It simply makes sense to sue them all at one time.

If you have any doubt about who to name as a defendant, you may need to perform some basic factual investigation and legal research. You could also hire an attorney to advise you on the limited issue of who to sue. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help and Law Libraries.


Naming A Person As A Defendant

If you are suing a person and know the person’s full legal name, that is usually what you should use when you list the person as a defendant in your case.

It can be tricky to identify people and find their addresses. Using a basic internet search sometimes yields helpful results. There are also government records you can search. For example, the Clark County Assessor's records will show who owns a particular piece of land. If you are suing a landlord, the assessor's records can identify the actual owner of the rental property. Click to visit the Clark County Assessor website.

The Clark County Recorder's office keeps records on property, marriages, divorces, deaths, and births. Those records might help you find the correct name and address for your defendant. There may be a fee to view some records. Others are not available online and can only be viewed at the recorder's office. Click to visit the Clark County Recorder website.

Court records can also be useful. If you know a person’s name, you can search to see if they have recent traffic violations, justice court civil suits, and district court civil or criminal cases. The person's address will usually not be available online, but you can go to the courthouse in person and get copies of court records that might have an address. Recent traffic tickets can be especially helpful because they usually contain an address and driver's license number. Click to visit Look Up My Case for instructions.


Naming A Business As A Defendant

Suing a business can be a little more complicated. Sometimes a business is owned by an individual, and sometimes a business is owned by a corporate entity. If the business is a corporation, you will generally have to name the corporation in your lawsuit. If a business is owned by an individual, you will have to name both the individual and the business (for example, "Jane Smith d.b.a. ABC Antiques," which means Jane Smith "doing business as" ABC Antiques).

You will need to make sure you state the correct business name on your lawsuit. You might know a business as "ABC Antiques," but its legal name could be "Fine Antiques, Inc. doing business as ABC Antiques." When a business uses a name other than its own, it must file a Fictitious Firm Name Certificate with Clark County. To find out if a business uses a fictitious name, contact the Clark County Clerk or use the searchable database of fictitious business names on the clerk’s website. Click to go to the Clark County Clerk fictitious name search page.

The Secretary of State's office has a searchable database of businesses operating in Nevada. Click to visit the Nevada Secretary of State search page.

The Clark County Clerk's Office has a database for Clark County businesses. Click to visit the Clark County Clerk business license search page.

You can also search business license information in the city where the business operates. Click to visit the business license search pages for the City of Las Vegas, the City of Henderson, or the City of North Las Vegas.