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How to Sue and Start a Lawsuit

Civil Claims Complaint

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All civil lawsuits start when a Complaint is filed with the court. If you need to sue someone for up to $15,000, you will need to file the Complaint  to bring the case to the Civil Division. A civil case is more complicated than a Small Claims case so the Complaint requires legal knowledge to prepare. You should consult an attorney to represent you or assist you in preparing the Complaint.

As the person who is starting the claim, you are known as the plaintiff. The person who you are suing is known as the defendant. It is important that you provide the court with the exact legal names of who you are suing. Fill out the form carefully.

Make sure that your claim clearly explains the facts of your case, why the defendant is responsible, and the amount of money you want the court to grant you. 

Once the defendant is served with the Complaint and Summons (the Summons is prepared by the Clerk of Court and instructs the defendant when to respond to the Complaint), they have 28 days to respond in writing. If they do not respond, you can file a motion for default judgment to ask the judge to rule in your favor as the defendant is not disputing the claim against them.

If the defendant replies within 28 days, your case will be assigned to a judge who will set the matter for a hearing.  If all parties are represented by a lawyer, the judge will conduct a telephone conference to try to settle the matter or set up a trial schedule.  If either party does not have a lawyer, all parties have to appear in court for a case management conference or pretrial in an effort to settle the case or set up a trial schedule.  

Before youdecide to  prepare your Complaint without an attorney, it may be helpful to examine information about Representing Yourself in A Civil Lawsuit. This resource is published by the Court for the Southern District of Ohio and NOT Garfield Heights Municipal Court. However, the information is general and quite useful.


Service of Process

I have filled out the complaint form. Now what?

Once you have prepared your Complaint, it must be filed with the court. You can mail it to the Clerk of Court, or you can deliver it yourself. If you are mailing or bringing your complaint form to the court, you must have two (2) copies of the completed complaint form and two copies of any attachments that you wish to file with your Complaint. If you are suing more than one defendant, you must bring two copies of the Complaint and any attachments for each additional defendant.

If you mail your Complaint to be filed by the Clerk, please include an extra copy of the complaint and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The clerk will return a time-stamped copy of the filing to you in this self-addressed envelope.

Once you have delivered your Complaint to the court, the court will attempt to send the complaint to the defendant(s) to the address you provide. This is known as service of process. 

Service of process notifies the defendant that you have filed a lawsuit and enables them to admit the claim or prepare a defense.  If the defendant is not served, your case cannot go forward.

There are two ways the court attempts to serve a party in civil cases. 

  1. One copy of the complaint and court summons is served by US Certified Mail. If the US Post Office is unable to deliver the complaint and summons, the Clerk will notify the plaintiff and ask for new instructions for service.
  2. A copy of the complaint and court summons is personally served on the defendant.  The plaintiff may file a written request with the Clerk requesting personal service instead of Certified Mail or after Certified Mail service is unsuccessful.  An additional fee of $75.00 will be charged for personal service in a civil claim. If the bailiff is unable to locate or serve the defendant(s) for any reason, the case cannot proceed to trial.

If there is no service, your case will be dismissed six (6) months after you filed it and you will need to file the case again when you are able to obtain service.

Who can file a civil lawsuit and who can be sued?  

Individuals or business entities such as corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships are parties that may sue and be sued.  It is very important that you list each party accurately. If there is more than one plaintiff or more than one defendant, list each one separately.

  • Individuals:  If you are 18 years or older, you may sue or be sued.  As a plaintiff you may file a claim in your own name.  Here is an example of how you might list a party (plaintiff or defendant) who is an individual (always provide a full first and last name; do not use nicknames):

Joe Public
10000 State Street
Garfield Heights, Ohio 44125

  • Corporations:  A corporation is an artificial “person” that is permitted to exist under Ohio law.  In a civil case, a corporation may sue or be sued in its own name and may be represented by an officer, salaried employee, or attorney in a civil case.  All corporations register with the Ohio Secretary of State. If you are filing against a corporation it is best to name the corporation through its Statutory Agent.  The Statutory Agent is a person appointed by the corporation, who can receive notice when the corporation is sued.  You can get the name and address of the Statutory Agent from the records at the Ohio Secretary of State website, by calling toll-free 877-767-3453, or by e-mailing busserv@sos.state.oh.us.  It is important to note that the Statutory Agent is not a defendant, but can accept Court notices for the corporation. Here is an example of how you might list a corporate party:

General Enterprises, Inc.
c/o Joe Smith, Statutory Agent
10000 State Street
Garfield Heights, OH 44125

You may also serve the corporation at the address of its usual place of business if it is within the jurisdiction of the Court.  You should not list officers, employees, or other agents of the corporation as defendants unless you also have claims against them personally.

  • Limited Liability Companies (LLC):  A limited liability company is created when individuals lawfully associate themselves for any purpose.  An LLC may sue or be sued.  If you are filing against an LLC it is best to name the corporation through its Statutory Agent.  The Statutory Agent is a person appointed by the LLC, who can receive notice when the LLC is sued.  You can get the name and address of the Statutory Agent from the records at the Ohio Secretary of State website, by calling toll-free 877-767-3453, or by e-mailing busserv@sos.state.oh.us. It is important to note that the Statutory Agent is not a defendant, but can accept Court notices for the LLC. Here is an example of how you might list a corporate party:

General Enterprises, LLC
c/o Joe Smith, Statutory Agent
10000 State Street
Garfield Heights, OH 44125

You may also serve the LLC at the address of its usual place of business if it is within the jurisdiction of the Court.  You should not list officers, employees, or other agents of the LLC as defendants unless you also have claims against them personally.

  • Partnerships:  A partnership is an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners of a business for-profit.  A partnership may sue or be sued in its own name and may be represented by a general partner or an attorney.  Although not required, many partnerships doing business in Ohio register with the Secretary of State by filing Statements of Partnership Authority.  You may find the name and address of the statutory agent for the partnership, or if no statutory agent, the names and mailing address of the general partners, at the Ohio Secretary of State website, by calling toll-free 877-767-3453, or by e-mailing busserv@sos.state.oh.us.  Additional information about identifying partnerships may be obtained from the Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer.  Call 216-443-7010.  It is a good idea to list the partnership and its general partners in the complaint.  Here is an example of how you might list a partnership:

Smith & Jones, a partnership
John Doe, General Partner
1000 State Street
Garfield Heights, OH 4425

  • D.B.A.:  "D.B.A." means, “doing business as” and is a fictitious business name that the owner (an individual or business entity) might use.  The fictitious name is never a substitute for the identity of the party that owns the business.  Here is an example of how you might use “D.B.A.” in identifying a party:

Bill Smith dba Bill’s Basement Waterproofing
1000 State Street
Garfield Heights, OH 44125

  • John Doe:  A fictitious name may be used in a claim against a defendant whose identity and location are known, but whose name is not.  If you do not know the name of a defendant, that defendant may be designated in the complaint by any name, usually John Doe.  In the complaint you must state the fact that you could not discover the defendant's name. You must also sufficiently identify and describe the defendant to allow personal service to be made on the defendant when the complaint is filed.  The body of the summons must contain the words "name unknown," and a copy of the summons and complaint must be served personally upon the defendant.  When the name of the defendant is discovered, the complaint must be amended to include the defendant's actual name.  Here is an example of how you might list a John Doe party:

John Doe, name unknown
1000 State Street
Garfield Heights, OH 44125


Fees

Filing a Civil court complaint costs $125.00.  If you are suing more than one person, it costs $10.00 to add another defendant to the lawsuit. You may need to pay additonal costs as the case proceeds.

The Clerk accepts cash, checks, money orders and credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, Discover, American Express).   Checks are payable to “Clerk of Garfield Heights Municipal Court.”  You can mail checks and money orders with your forms to the clerk’s office at:

5555 Turney Road
Garfield Heights, Ohio 44125

If you want to pay with a credit card, you must pay by phone or in person at the Clerk of Court's office. 

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