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Every civil case starts with a complaint. A complaint outlines a problem or reason for the lawsuit, which is also known as a claim or cause of action. A complaint (and all other documents filed with the court) needs to be on 8 ½” x 11” paper, double-spaced, and typed using certain typefaces required by the Local Rules. A judge may allow you to file a handwritten document. Here are the things that must be in a complaint and with a complaint.
• Caption. A complaint, a motion, a notice, and a similar document filed with the court must have a caption that includes the court’s name and division (Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Ocala, Orlando, or Tampa), the parties’ names and designations (plaintiff or defendant), the case number if known, and a descriptive title, such as “Complaint”. Here is an example of a caption you would see at the top of a complaint:
SHERIFF OF DUVAL COUNTY,
Case No. 3:13-cv-5555-J-34PDB
|Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial|
|AO 85||Notice, Consent, and Reference of a Civil Action to a Magistrate Judge|
|AO 85A||Notice, Consent, and Reference of a Dispositive Motion to a Magistrate Judge|
|AO 88||Subpoena to Appear and Testify at a Hearing or Trial in a Civil Action|
|AO 88A||Subpoena to Testify at a Deposition in a Civil Action|
|AO 88B||Subpoena to Produce Documents, Information, or Objects or to Permit Inspection of Premises|
|AO 239||Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Long Form)|
|AO 240||Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Short Form)|
|AO 398||Notice of a Lawsuit and Request to Waive Service of a Summons|
|AO 399||Waiver of the Service of Summons|
|AO 440||Summons in a Civil Action|
|AO 441||Summons on Third-Party Complaint|
|JS 44||Civil Cover Sheet|
|Pro Se 1||Complaint for a Civil Case|
|Pro Se 2||Complaint and Request for Injunction|
|Pro Se 3||Defendant's Answer to the Complaint|
|Pro Se 4||Complaint for a Civil Case Alleging Breach of Contract|
|Pro Se 5||Complaint for a Civil Case Alleging Negligence|
|Pro Se 6||Complaint for a Civil Case Alleging that the Defendant Owes the Plaintiff a Sum of Money|
|Pro Se 7||Complaint for Employment Discrimination|
|Pro Se 8||Complaint for Violations of Fair Labor Standards|
|Pro Se 9||Complaint for Specific Performance or Damages Based on Contract to Convey Real Property|
|Pro Se 10||Complaint for the Conversion of Property|
|Pro Se 11||Third Party Complaint|
|Pro Se 12||Complaint for Interpleader and Declaratory Relief|
|Pro Se 13||Complaint for Review of Social Security Decision|
|Pro Se 14||Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights (Prisoner)|
|Pro Se 15||Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights (Non-Prisoner)|
If you are suing, you have to pay a filing fee of $400 by money order, cashier’s check, or in-person credit card. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can apply to the court for permission to proceed without paying the filing fee up front. That is called proceeding “in forma pauperis.” To do so, you must complete and file an affidavit-of-indigency form so the court can consider your finances and whether you cannot afford the filing fee. You can get the form from the clerk’s office or the court’s website:
Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Costs-Long Form AO 239
Filing the form does not guarantee you can proceed without paying the filing fee. The court makes that decision. Even if the court waives the filing fee, you will still be held responsible for other costs of litigation, including costs for photocopies, deposition transcripts, witnesses, and mediation. If your request to proceed in forma pauperis is denied, you have to pay the filing fee or the court will dismiss your action.
You must file your complaint and other court documents by mail or in person at a clerk’s office. If you mail your court documents, addresses (and phone numbers) for the Middle District of Florida courts are provided below. File your action in the division that covers the county or counties that have the closest connection to your dispute. See the section above titled “Is this the right court to decide my dispute?” The clerk there will provide a case number.
2110 First St., Rm. 2-194
Ft. Myers, FL 33901
300 N. Hogan St., Rm. 9-150
Jacksonville, FL 32202
207 N.W. Second St., Rm. 337
Ocala, FL 34475
401 W. Central Blvd., Ste. 1200
Orlando, FL 32801
801 N. Florida Ave.
Tampa, FL 33602
Service of process is the procedure used to notify a defendant of the lawsuit. Because it is fair and important for someone to have an opportunity to respond to allegations and defend against a claim, service of process is required by law, is exacting, and must be done in one of several specific ways. If service of process is not done according to the law, the court may dismiss your complaint. Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states the requirements for service of process. (Note that Rule 4 includes special requirements for service when suing the United States, one of its agencies, or one of its employees.)
If you are the one suing, you must fill out a summons forms (one for each defendant) and present it to the clerk’s office, where a clerk will sign the form and stamp it with the court’s seal. From there, you will need a copy of each official summons (the one with the clerk’s signature and seal) and a copy of the complaint and any of its attachments (one copy for each defendant). You must serve those documents on each defendant within 90 days of filing the complaint or risk dismissal of your action.
There are three ways to serve process:
• Personal Service. You can tell someone else to personally deliver or serve the summons and complaint. The server must be older than 18 and may not be a party in the action. The server then must complete and sign the back of the original summons form and return it to you so you can file it with the court. That is called the return of service. It is proof to the court that the defendant knows about the action.
• Waiver of Service. A defendant may waive service, which means the defendant agrees to respond to the complaint even though you did not personally serve the defendant with the summons and complaint. You can get waiver-of-service forms from the clerk’s office or from the court’s website:
Once you have completed those two forms, you can mail them to each defendant with a copy of the complaint and any of its attachments. If the defendant completes the form and either you or the defendant returns it to the court, you do not have to complete personal service of process.
• Service by U.S. Marshal. If the court allows you to proceed in forma pauperis and waives the filing fee, and if the court further finds your complaint is not subject to dismissal (for example, because it is frivolous or the person being sued is immune from liability), the court will direct the U.S. Marshal to complete service of process at no cost to you. But note that for each defendant, you still must provide a completed summons and a copy of complaint to the clerk’s office for forwarding to the U.S. Marshal.