Filing A Complaint To Start Your Case
Learn about the requirements for preparing and filing a civil complaint, including how to prepare a summons, along with some cautions about when filing a complaint could get you into trouble.
Most civil cases are started by one party (the party suing, called the “plaintiff”) filing a “complaint” with the court. A “complaint” is a document that describes what the plaintiff wants (money or some other type of relief) and why she believes she is entitled to that relief. It also identifies the “defendant” (the party being sued).
When the plaintiff files the complaint, she will pay a filing fee to the court. She will also have the court issue a “summons.” A “summons” is a legal document that notifies the defendant that he is being sued. It tells him which court the case is in, the names of the parties to the case, and the names of the plaintiff’s attorney (if there is one).
The summons and complaint must then be “served” (personally delivered by a process server) to the defendant.
Below is a sample complaint packet with a shortened version of the information contained below, as well as a sample complaint. Remember that every complaint is different, so this packet is only intended to be a sample.
Sample Complaint Packet
Q&A: Summons And Complaint
Is there a difference between filing in the district court and filing in the justice court?
Yes, there is a difference. You will need to determine which court has jurisdiction over your case before you file your complaint. To learn more, click to visit Deciding Where to File.
Is there a complaint “form” I can fill out to start my case?
The Self-Help Center does not have a form complaint for use in the district court or the justice court.
FYI! If you are suing for less than $10,000, the Self-Help Center has forms you can use to file a small claims case in the justice court. Small claims court is quicker and easier and is designed for non-attorneys. To learn more, click to visit Small Claims.
Your complaint is your story. Because every story is different, every complaint is different. So if you intend to represent yourself in a district or justice court civil case, you will need to write your own complaint, which will be specific to your case. Or you can hire an attorney to write a complaint for you. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help.
Where can I find an example of a complaint to look at?
Your local law library is a terrific place to look for examples of complaints. The librarian should be able to direct you to examples of very simple complaints on various topics. You can use these examples as a starting point when you sit down to write your own complaint.
For example, your law library has a series of books called American Jurisprudence Pleadings and Practice Forms. These books have example complaints on hundreds of topics. Try to find a complaint that involves a situation that is as close to yours as possible.
You also might be able to find examples in other cases filed with the court. Research the court’s on-line records to see if you can find a case against the same type of defendant as yours that involves the same general thing. You might be able to find a complaint that was drafted by an attorney that you could use as a starting point to draft your own. You could get a copy of the complaint from the court clerk for a small copy charge. For information on how to look at the court’s records, click to visit Look Up My Case.
TIP! Read any examples carefully! Sometimes portions of an example don’t apply to your case and should not be included in your complaint. Other times examples don’t have all the claims and information you’ll need to include. Examples are a great place to start. But tailor your complaint to YOUR case!
What must the complaint look like?
Your complaint should generally comply with the court’s rules on how documents must look.
If you are filing in the district court, study Rule 7.20 of the Rules of Practice for the Eighth Judicial District Court. Click to visit District Court Rules.
The justice courts (other than Las Vegas) do not have specific rules regarding how documents should look. If you follow the district court rule, your documents should be acceptable.
For the Las Vegas Justice Court, study Rule 10 of the Local Rules of Practice for the Las Vegas Justice Court. Click to visit Justice Court Rules.
What must the complaint say?
Your complaint must contain a “caption” (or heading) that includes the name of the court and county, the parties to the case (and their designation, like “plaintiff” or “defendant”), the case number (if you have one), and the title of the document. (NRCP 10; JCRCP 10.)
In the body of your complaint, you must at least give fair notice about the nature and basis or grounds of your claim and general notice about the type of case. (Taylor v. State, 73 Nev. 151, 311 P.2d 733 (1957).) To do this, include at least two things in the body of your complaint:
1. A short and plain statement of your claim showing that you are entitled to relief. (NRCP 8(a); JCRCP 8(a).)
- This means that your complaint must set forth sufficient facts to establish all of the necessary elements of the claim for relief you are asserting. (Hay v. Hay, 100 Nev. 196, 678 P.2d 672 (1984).) For more information about claims for relief, click to visit Evaluating and Researching Your Case.
- Your statement of claim should be broken into numbered paragraphs (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). (NRCP 10(b); JCRCP 10(b).) Each of the numbered paragraphs should contain a single thought or set of circumstances. Make each paragraph a statement that is simple, concise, and direct. (NRCP 8(e); JCRCP 8(e).)
2. A demand for judgment that states the relief you are asking for. (NRCP 8(a); JCRCP 8(a).)
- In the district court, just say you are seeking “damages in excess of $10,000.”
- In justice court, state the exact dollar amount (less than $10,000).
- As a general rule, if you do not ask for it, you are not going to get it. So demand all the types of relief you are seeking.
Lastly, you must sign your complaint and state your address, telephone number, and (in the district court and Las Vegas Justice Court) your e-mail address. (NRCP 11; JCRCP 11.)
FYI! If you’re filing in the Las Vegas Justice Court, you must include this statement above your signature on every document you file: “I declare under penalty of perjury under the lass of the State of Nevada that the foregoing is true and correct.” (JCRLV 16.)
Are there circumstances when I might need to include additional information in my complaint?
You may need to include additional information in your complaint if the claim for relief that you are including requires you to plead any of the following:
- Capacity (meaning the legal ability of a person to sue or be sued)
- Fraud (meaning some false representation intended to cause another person to act, that the other person acts upon to their injury)
- Mistake (typically a defense in a breach of contract case, mistake means that one party to a contract was mistaken about some basic assumption of the contract resulting in some adverse effect, and the other party knew about the mistake)
- Condition of the mind (some claims require you to say, for example, that a party acted with “intent” or “knowledge,” or some other state of mind)
- Conditions precedent (meaning that a party’s obligation to do something under a contract was conditioned on something else happening first)
- Official document or act (meaning you are referring to some official document that was issued or some official act that was performed)
- Judgment or decision of a court (meaning you are referring to a judgment or decision that was issued by a court)
- Time and place (meaning that you are referring to a particular time and place)
- Special damages (meaning damages you are seeking based on measurable dollar amounts of actual loss)
If you are pleading any of these in your complaint, study Rule 9 of the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure or the Justice Court Rules of Civil Procedure. Click to visit District Court Rules or Justice Court Rules.
Do I need to attach exhibits to my complaint?
You are not required to attach exhibits to your complaint. You can, though, if you think it will help your case in some way. Anything you attach to your complaint becomes part of your complaint. (NRCP 10(c); JCRCP 10(c).)
Who should I name as a defendant in my complaint?
There are many factors that go into deciding who to name as a defendant in your case. For more guidance on this topic, click to visit Deciding Who to Sue.
Where should I file my complaint?
Figuring out which court to file in is crucial to your case. If you file in the wrong court, your case could be dismissed. To learn more, click to visit Deciding Where to File.
How much will the filing fee be to file my complaint?
When you file your complaint, the court clerk will charge you a filing fee. Filing fees can vary depending on the type of case you are filing and the amount of money you are suing for. To learn more, click to visit Filing Fees and Waivers.
Is there a chance that filing a complaint could get me in trouble?
Yes. When you sign a complaint (or any other court document), you are certifying to the court that you have conducted an inquiry into the facts and the law and that:
- You are not filing the complaint for any improper purposes, such as to harass the other side, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation.
- Your claims and legal contentions in the complaint have a basis in existing law (or you have a good faith argument that existing law should be extended or changed).
- You have evidence to support the allegations and facts in the complaint (unless you specifically allege a fact based only on your information and belief) (NRCP 11(b); JCRCP 11(b).)
If you file a complaint without any legal or factual support or for some improper purpose, the court can “sanction” you. That means the court could require you to pay money to the other side or to the court. It could also dismiss your case or fashion some other sanction sufficient to deter you from repeating your conduct. (NRCP 11(c)(2); JCRCP 11(c)(2).)
In some situations, the defendant you name in your complaint could actually sue you for abusing the legal process and harming them.
Will I need a summons form to submit with my complaint?
Yes. Filing your complaint starts your case, but the summons is the document that is issued under the court’s authority that notifies your defendant they are being sued and that they need to take action.
A Summons form is available for free at the Self-Help Center, or you can download the document on your computer by clicking one of the formats underneath the form’s title below:
DISTRICT COURT SUMMONS
Complete the summons form for the court in which you are filing your case (district court or justice court). Submit it to the court clerk at the same time you submit your complaint.
The summons is not valid unless it has been signed by the court clerk.
For additional tips and instructions, click to visit Basics of Court Forms and Filing.
Do I need to file a Civil Cover Sheet with my complaint?
Yes. A Civil Cover Sheet is a simple form the plaintiff must submit at the start of a court case. The form identifies the type of case and the parties.
To download a Civil Cover Sheet, click one of the formats underneath the form's title below:
DISTRICT COURT CIVIL COVER SHEET
JUSTICE COURT CIVIL COVER SHEET
After I file my summons and complaint, what must I do?
After you file your case and have the summons issued by the court clerk, you must “serve” (deliver) a copy of the summons and complaint to each of the defendants you named in your case. There are very specific requirements for service. To learn more, click to visit Serving Your Complaint.
What if I need to change my complaint after I file it?
You can change your complaint after you have filed it by “amending” it. How you go about amending your complaint depends on whether the defendant has filed anything with the court.
- If the defendant has NOT filed anything with the court, you can simply prepare and file an “amended complaint.” (NRCP 15(a); JCRCP (15(a).)
Use the complaint you already prepared as a starting point. Change whatever you want to change. And change the title to “First Amended Complaint.”
File your new amended complaint with the court clerk. There will not be an additional filing fee.
Make arrangements to have your new amended complaint “served” (delivered) to the defendant. Click to visit Serving Your Complaint.
- If any defendant HAS filed with the court in response to your complaint, you must file a motion asking the court to allow you to amend your complaint (or obtain and file the written consent of all defendants).
Prepare your amended complaint as discussed above.
Fill out the generic motion form below and title it “Motion to Amend Complaint.”
DISTRICT COURT MOTION (GENERIC)
Attach a copy of your proposed amended complaint to your motion to amend. (EDCR 2.30; JCRLV 10.5.) The proposed amended complaint that you attach must be complete, include any exhibits, and be ready to file.
File your motion (and attached amended complaint) with the court clerk. The clerk will set the case for a hearing date.
Mail a copy of your motion to all defendants who have filed in the case.
Attend your hearing. If the judge grants your motion, the judge might order the clerk to remove and file the proposed amended complaint you already submitted. If not, you will need to file your amended complaint with the court.
At the hearing, the judge might also instruct you to prepare an order for the judge’s signature. Use the generic order form below. Prepare it and submit it to the judge for signature.
Once the judge signs your order, file it with the court clerk (if not filed already).
Prepare the Notice of Entry of Order below. Attach the signed Order you received from the judge to the Notice of Entry of Order you prepared. File the Notice of Entry of Order (including the attached Order) with the court clerk. Mail a copy of the Notice of Entry of Order (including the attached Order) to all other parties in the case.
DISTRICT COURT NOTICE OF ENTRY OF ORDER
JUSTICE COURT NOTICE OF ENTRY OF ORDER