What is a Lawsuit? - Lee Steinberg Law Firm

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What is a Lawsuit?

It’s interesting how rarely I am asked one of the most basic questions in the entire legal field.  What is a lawsuit?  It’s interesting because most clients never ask this question even as they are about to enter one as a named party. 

Most people think they understand what a lawsuit is, but many are incorrect.   I’ve had a number of clients who believe a “lawsuit” is simply asking a judge for money.   This is simply not true.  In a civil case for money damages, a lawsuit is an action brought in court that asks a judge or jury to award some type of relief or remedy, usually money damages, for a wrong that was committed against them.   This wrong can be known as a tort, where a violation of a legal duty occurred, or the wrong can be a breach of contract. 

In Michigan, a lawsuit is started by filing what’s called a Complaint in either District Court or Circuit Court.  If the size of the award the plaintiff (the person or entity asking for relief) is requesting is over $25,000, then the Complaint must be filed in Circuit Court.  Anything $25,000 or less must be filed in District Court.  In general, the Complaint is a statement of facts alleging why the conduct of the defendant entitles a plaintiff to recover relief. 

The Michigan Rules of Court set forth what a Complaint should look like and what must be plead.  MCR 2.111(B) states:

Statement of Claim. A complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party complaint must contain the following:

(1)        A statement of the facts, without repetition, on which the pleader relies in stating the cause of action, with the specific allegations necessary reasonably to inform the adverse party of the nature of the claims the adverse party is called on to defend; and

(2)        A demand for judgment for the relief that the pleader seeks. If the pleader seeks an award of money, a specific amount must be stated if the claim is for a sum certain or a sum that can by computation be made certain, or if the amount sought is $25,000 or less. Otherwise, a specific amount may not be stated, and the pleading must include allegations that show that the claim is within the jurisdiction of the court. Declaratory relief may be claimed in cases of actual controversy. See MCR 2.605. Relief in the alternative or relief of several different types may be demanded.

Michigan is a “fact pleading” jurisdiction rather than a “notice pleading” jurisdiction.  In a notice pleading jurisdiction, the plaintiff only has to state its claim or claims in general terms without alleging detailed facts to support the claim.  Fact pleading is more specific and means the Complaint must state the actual facts he or she relies upon to inform the defendant of the nature of the claim it is defending. 

At the time the plaintiff’s Complaint is filed, a summons is issued and served on the defendant by an officer of the Court, usually a Deputy Sheriff or process server, informing the defendant that suit has been filed and that a response must be made within a given period of time or a judgment will be taken against him.  A Complaint must be filed with a summons.  Proof of service upon the defendant must usually then be filed with the court.  A summons expires after 91 days. 

Once the defendant is served with the Complaint, the defendant has 21 days to file an answer to the Complaint after it receives the Complaint and summons.  This answer must be filed with the court.  If the Defendant is not in Michigan, it has 28 days to file its answer to the Plaintiff’s Complaint. 

This is a brief overview of what a lawsuit is.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us here at our offices throughout the state of Michigan by calling 1-800-LEE-FREE (533-3733).