In my practice, I’ve learned that one of the primary reasons why clients retain my office to file lawsuits on their behalf is because they aren’t familiar with the steps. I’ve decided to put together this handy dandy guide on how to file a breach of contract lawsuit. **While this is a complete and concise guide, the contents below do not constitute as legal advice.

STEP 1: Relief – Know What You’re Suing for and Your Desired Outcome of the Lawsuit

This is the “meat and potatoes” of your lawsuit. Think of initiating a lawsuit as telling the judge your story and what you would like to receive as a result of the breach. What would right the wrong? This is your “Relief.” Both the story and the relief are key components of your “Complaint”- the document you file which initiates a lawsuit.

STEP 2: Jurisdiction – Know Where to File Your Lawsuit

Jurisdiction is the Court’s power to make decisions regarding a matter. In order for a Court to have jurisdiction over your case, you must file your Complaint with the appropriate Court. For breach of contract suits, examine where the contract was signed. If there is property involved, where is the property located? Where do you live and does the breacher have any contact with that location? For most people, it’s easiest to file the suit in the city which they live or where the contract was signed.

STEP 3: Draft Your Complaint

You can find sample Complaints online and follow those outlines (make sure you search base on the jurisdiction where you’d like to file your lawsuit. Remember, different courts have different rules and requirements). Most Courts also have self-help websites or centers that can provide you with templates and assistance as well.

STEP 4: Attach Your Exhibits

Assemble all documents pertinent to your complaint. For breach of contract matters, this is usually the contract that was signed by both parties. This is typically “Exhibit 1”. For matters involving a verbal contract, make sure your Complaint specifies that the contract was verbal.

STEP 5: Draft the Summons

When filing the Complaint, you must also file a Summons. This alerts the opposing party that they have been sued and have 21 days to respond to or “Answer” the Complaint. You can find sample templates online or with the Court’s self-help center.

STEP 6: File the Lawsuit

Now that you have a complete Complaint and Summons, you must file it with the Court. This initiates your lawsuit. You can do this in person at the courthouse or you can do it online. It’s usually easier to do it online. This is called “e-filing.” Each Court has a different e-filing system, so make sure to check with the Court or call the Clerk to verify which e-filing system to use. You will upload your Complaint and Summons, pay the court filing fee (this fee varies, depending on the jurisdiction and number of defendants) and if there are no issues, your lawsuit will be officially filed. Make sure you list yourself and your email address to receive “electronic service” – this is how you will receive correspondences from the Court and from the adverse party, if they file any. You will receive a stamped copy of the documents filed, letting you know that your lawsuit has been filed successfully.

STEP 7: Serve the Summons and Complaint

The Summons and Complaint must be served on the party you are suing. This means the stamped copy of the Summons and Complaint that you filed with the Court must be hand delivered to the Defendant. You cannot do this yourself. It must be served by someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case.

It might be easiest to hire a process server in your local area. They will do a search to locate the address of the Defendant (if necessary) and also drop off the Complaint and Summons at the address. This can range anywhere from $50-$250, depending on the location and if you need a search to be completed to locate the Defendant.

STEP 8: File Certificate of Service

E-file the certificate of service with the Court. This lets the Court know that you have notified the opposing party of the lawsuit.

STEP 9: Wait 21 Days

Once served, the opposing party has 21 days to respond or “Answer”. If there is no response in 21 days, you can file for a default judgment, essentially “winning” your lawsuit.

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