Filing a Lawsuit in California – Anatomy of a Lawsuit Part IV

This series applies to California lawsuits only. For rules regarding your state’s civil litigation procedure, visit the website for your specific state’s judicial branch. This is a very broad overview. Multiple considerations must take place and detailed analysis goes into each step. Please consult a lawyer for help with your particular case.

To recap, we’ve discussed some considerations before filing a lawsuit such as What is the Deadline to File a Lawsuit and Where to File a Lawsuit.

I almost always recommend communicating with the other side and working together to find a win-win solution to a problem before going the lawsuit route. Sometimes you can do that yourself but other times you may need a California business lawyer or a civil litigation attorney to step in help you negotiate a solution. If that doesn’t work and you hit an impasse, you may have to file a lawsuit.

Be prepared because lawsuits are expensive.

Here’s a quick orientation on filing a lawsuit in California.  This article discusses the actions within the blue circle.

Flow of a Lawsuit - Complaint


How do I sue someone?

Hire a Lawyer – Lawsuits are very deadline driven and if you miss a deadline, you may blow your chances of achieving your objectives in the lawsuit. A lawyer will also know what legal theories of liability are appropriate based on the facts and documents you provide.

Draft and File a Complaint – Once you’ve hired a lawyer, she/he will draft a document called the Complaint. Broadly, the Complaint tells the court and the parties to the lawsuit what your claims are and the remedy you seek (generally money in civil lawsuits).

The Complaint must meet numerous requirements in order to withstand various challenges that a defendant might bring up such as lack of jurisdiction (this court doesn’t have the power to hear this case) or improper venue (this court is not the right place to file this case). Each legal theory is set out in a “cause of action” and must make certain allegations in order to pass muster.

Once the Complaint is drafted, it must be filed in the proper court along with payment of an initial filing fee.

What to do after filing a Lawsuit in California?

Serve a Summons and Complaint – At the time or after filing the Complaint, your attorney will submit and the court will issue a Summons, which must be served on each defendant along with a copy of the Complaint. Its function is to notify defendants that a lawsuit is pending against them, that they have a limited period of time within which to file a response, and of the consequences if they fail to do so.

Like everything else in civil litigation, there are detailed rules on who may serve the Summons, fees, upon whom service may be made (differs depending on whether defendant is a person, a corporation, a partnership, etc.), and how. Except in certain situations, the complaint for a California lawsuit must be served on all named defendants, and proof of service filed with the court, within 60 days after filing the complaint. [CRC 3.110(b)]

File a Proof of Service – A proof of service lets the court know that defendant was served with the Summons and Complaint, when, where, how, and by whom.

Mistakes at any step of the way could be costly. At the very least, consult with an attorney.  I am happy to answer your questions, e-mail me or call (949) 529-0007.

Next up, learn about Responding to a Lawsuit in California.


Please read our disclaimer.

In: Anatomy of a Lawsuit, California Civil Litigation

Comments are closed.