Litigation documents are not the first thing the average person thinks about when they hear the term “legal documents”. Wills, deeds, powers of attorney, tax forms, come to mind first. These are legal documents, but they’re not litigation documents.
Litigation documents are less formulaic and more intimidating than those listed above. Their purpose is to move a lawsuit along. In that sense, they’re more powerful than documents that use pre-printed forms. Plaintiffs and defendants in a lawsuit use this kind of document to commence a lawsuit, communicate their positions, “talk” to a judge, or facilitate the smooth running of a case.
A pleading is a litigation document that starts a case or responds to a complaint. You’re not asking a court to make a decision. A pleading might end with “The plaintiff prays for judgment against defendant in the sum of $5523, plus interest and costs together with any other relief the court finds to be just and proper.”
Types of Pleadings
- Complaint–The complaint commences a lawsuit. You file a complaint when someone has caused you harm or injury and you want to be compensated.
- Answer and Affirmative Defenses–An answer is the defendant’s response to the complaint. Answers are typically filed with Affirmative Defenses. Affirmative defenses assert that even if everything the plaintiff says is true, the defendant isn’t liable.
- Counterclaim–A counterclaim is the defendant’s complaint. The counterclaim must arise from the same set of facts the plaintiff is complaining about. With few exceptions, the counterclaim can be filed at anytime during the proceedings.
A motion is a request to a court for a judgment. Unlike pleadings, motions argue a point and cite cases and statutes.
- Motion for Costs–You’ve won. Now, it’s time to get your money back. You do that through a motion for costs. It’s easy to get court costs, so, be sure to ask for it. Luckily, it doesn’t take much persuading.
- Motion for Extension of Time–You’ve been served a complaint and summons, but you need time to think about a response. Ask the judge for more time by filing a Motion for Extension of time. List the reasons you need more time, sign it and file it.
- Motion for Summary Judgment–A Motion for Summary Judgment argues that no material facts in the case can reasonably be disputed and any court reviewing the facts and the law would rule in your favor.
- Motion in Limine–It’s the end of discovery, and things were revealed that have nothing to do with the case. Use the Motion in Limine to request an order barring that evidence from being admitted at trial.
- Motion to Dismiss–The motion to dismiss is a headache for a plaintiff but offers hope to a defendant. If you’re a defendant and find anything improper about the complaint, summons, or even service of process, use the “Motion to Dismiss” to persuade the judge to dismiss the case.
Notices keep the courts running smoothly. You don’t have to persuade, and they don’t commence an action, but notices prove useful for supplementing the record and keeping all parties informed of filings, transcripts, and so on.
Types of Notice
- Notice of Appeal–You fought hard, but the judge ruled in favor of your opponent, which ended the case. You want to appeal because you believe the ruling was in error. The Notice of Appeal begins the appeals process.
- Notice of Deposition–The Notice of Deposition informs your opponent and the court (your judge) that you’re deposing or interviewing a witness under oath at a specified date, time and place.
- Notice of Filing–Sometimes you’ll want to enter documents or “evidence” (interrogatories, government reports, transcripts, etc.) into the record of your case. To do that, file it along with a Notice of Filing. This alerts all parties and the court of your evidence. Motions and pleadings don’t require a notice of filing.
- Notice of Hearing–You’ve filed your motion and scheduled it for hearing. Now it’s time to “notice” it. That is, you must inform all parties of the scheduled date, time, and location of the hearing.
- Notice of Serving–If you served a subpoena or other document, you can alert all parties with a “Notice of Serving Subpoena.”
Requests, closely associated with discovery documents, are used to collect evidence from an opponent. Unlike notices, motions, and pleadings, requests don’t need to be filed with the court to have power.
Types of Requests
- Request for Answers to Interrogatories–Written interrogatories ask questions that solicit information supporting or opposing a claim, counterclaim, or affirmative defense. Many jurisdictions limit the number of questions you may ask, so be selective.
- Request for Admissions–The Request for Admissions asks an opposing party to either admit or deny specific facts.
- Request for Production–Use the Request for Production to gain access to documents or other tangible items that are in an opponent’s possession, such as reports, letters or birth certificates.
Orders are generally understood to be written by judges. So why is this category here? Because you can actually write one. You can’t sign it, file it, and expect others to follow it, but you can certainly write one, as a recent article shows. Like the other types of litigation documents, there are several types of court orders. Some are listed below.
Types of Orders
- Proposed Order–Did you know you can “suggest” language you want to see in a judge’s ruling? Simply draft the order you want and submit your “Proposed Order” with the motion you’re filing. Judges don’t have to use your order, but they often do.
- Protective Order–For purposes of litigation, a party can use a Protective Order to bar privileged information from being “discovered” or presented in court. Attorney-client privilege, for instance, bars an opponent from discovering certain information a client might communicate to his attorney. Work product privilege can bar discovery of materials prepared in anticipation of litigation. Pro se litigants can use this privilege. There’s also doctor patient privilege and several others.
- Order of Protection (Injunction)–This type of order typically deals with physical protection. In domestic violence cases where one party is afraid of physical harm by another, the victim can go to court to get an order of protection or restraining order to prevent the other party from harming them. The orders are sworn out in civil court, but they establish criminal penalties for disobeying them.
There are many types of litigation documents. This list, in fact, is embarrassingly small. Still, it shows the power one can wield in real court just by understanding the documents filed during litigation.