- A legal complaint is typically the first document in a lawsuit
- Filing a complaint starts the lawsuit
- Other complaints can be filed in a lawsuit, including amended complaints and third-party complaints
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A legal complaint, also called a petition, is typically the first document filed in a lawsuit. It is the pleading that starts a lawsuit.
There may be other complaints filed in a lawsuit, including:
A criminal complaint lists the alleged offenses (charges) against a defendant and the facts surrounding those offenses.
Typically, the government (through a prosecutor) files a criminal complaint with the court. A court will determine whether the complaint shows probable cause. This initiates the criminal case and often precedes an arrest warrant.
Many state court resources offer example complaints, or templates to help you begin your complaint. You can also find a sample complaint letter for a civil case on uscourts.gov.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Title III: Federal civil court rules explaining what a complaint is and what it must include.
State Rules of Practice: Many states have their own rules for complaints. See, for example, the specific requirements for a complaint in New York: CVP Rule 2101.
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544 (2007): The U.S. Supreme Court held that a complaint requires enough factual information to show that a relief was "plausible on its face," rather than simply conceivable.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 566 US 662 (2009): Further explaining the need for factual allegations to meet the standard of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 8.