In our last
blog post – Anatomy of a MN Lawsuit: In the Beginning There Was a Complaint
– we discussed what comes first in a typical lawsuit, how the facts
alleged in the Complaint are made, and the process of being summoned to
Court. Before we get too far ahead and dive into the core of litigation,
we need to address what is in the rest of the Complaint after the people,
businesses, and interested parties are identified and one side of the
story is told. In all actuality, this next part is the most important
part of all: the Counts, or Causes of Action or the Claims that are being made.
Part 2: Claims for Relief
After the factual allegations in the Complaint are made, the next section
is usually broken down into separate subsections that are numbered and
given headings to state the type of claim being made.
For example, typical subsections for causes of actions and claims will include:
Count I: Breach of Contract
Count II: Fraud
Count III: Tortious Interference with Contract
Count IV: Negligence
Count V: Violation of Minn.Stat. § 302A.751
Count VI: Specific Performance
Each count listed is a law or legal standard that the plaintiff believes
you – the defendant – violated based on their unchallenged
and largely-unexamined side of the story. Based solely on the facts they
allege occurred, the conduct was “against the law” as each
count describes it.
You check your phone real quick while driving to the store and rear-end a Buick.
You broke the law. You have a non-compete contract and you take a new job with your company’s
You broke the law. You promise to pay for a hamburger next Tuesday if you can eat it today,
and then you do not pay on Tuesday.
You broke the law. You take more than your fair share from your business partner.
You broke the law.
Driving responsibly. Keeping your word. Paying your debts. Treating someone
the same way they are supposed to treat you. In other words, these are
all standards society thinks you should adhere to in a civilized world.
If you do not, you need to face consequences to keep the world orderly
and prevent it from descending into chaos. At least, that’s what
they say, anyway.
“Come On, I Barely Hit You”
But it is not enough to just drive like an idiot or break a promise. In
civil law, someone has to suffer an “injury.” This is simple
to understand when you rear-end someone at a red light, but it gets more
complicated when fraud, misrepresentations, interfering with a contract,
or violating a statute is the basis of the complaint and no one can point
to any real physical harm being done. If you break a law and no one is
hurt, have you actually broken the law? Yes. However, in the civil context,
you may have broken the law but if no harm or damage has occurred, the
law cannot do much to set things right. Think of it like the times you
were caught jumping on the bed by your mother – she told you so
many times not to do this but so long as you are fine and nothing is broken
when she catches you, the only thing she does next is tell you again not to do it.
This is not to say “no harm no foul” though, because some laws
do not require damages to be proven, such as in defamation cases. But
the fact that a law was broken and no harm occurred usually will mean
the case is “not actionable.” In simpler terms, why would
you hire a lawyer and sue someone if you were not damaged by what occurred?
Most people will not.
If the Complaint does not allege that the things you did wrong violated
a set standard and then caused harm, the case is most likely subject to
being dismissed upfront; no one has time to split hairs, especially not
a judge presiding over a handful of cases at a time. Someone may be very
unhappy with your behavior or actions but if it did not hurt them and/or
break a rule society has deemed important enough to call a law capable
of being set out as a Count in a written Complaint, they probably cannot
state a claim against you. When their hands are tied or folded, so are
the law’s, and it will be unable to assist them or provide a “fix”,
which is a nice way of saying forcing you to act or slamming you with
a monetary judgement.
Next: Answering the Complaint.