(Before you enter into a lawsuit, you might want to read this article with some alternative options to beginning a lawsuit: Should I File a Lawsuit?)
Do you want to sue someone in Minnesota without an attorney? Here are a few considerations to help you get started.
If two people from Alabama want to sue each other in Minnesota and the lawsuit has nothing to do with Minnesota, Minnesota courts will not hear the case. The idea is that Minnesota taxpayer money should only be spent on Minnesota lawsuits. Minnesota courts need some time for connection to Minnesota before they will hear a lawsuit. This is called jurisdiction.
To sue someone in Minnesota, the person or business you are suing must have some connection to Minnesota. If the person or business you are suing is located in Minnesota, the Minnesota courts have jurisdiction. But if the person or business you are suing is not located in Minnesota, we must find some other connection. For example, did the person or business sell something in Minnesota? Did the person or business enter into a contract in Minnesota? Was the person or business in Minnesota at the time they engaged in wrongful behavior that harmed you? If so, there is a sufficient connection to sue that person or business in a Minnesota court.
There are two court systems in Minnesota: Minnesota state courts and the United States Federal courts. The Minnesota state courts are generally divided by counties, so for example, the Hennepin County District Court is the Minnesota state court located in Hennepin County. Most lawsuits in Minnesota are in the Minnesota state courts. There are special requirements for having a lawsuit in the federal courts.
For small claims, which are claims for $7500 or less, Minnesota state courts offer Conciliation Court in each county. Conciliation Courts do not follow the Minnesota Rules for District Courts, the Minnesota Rules of Evidence, and other formalities, so people can represent themselves in Conciliation Court without an attorney.
Venue relates to which county you should file your case in. In general, you are safe if you file your case in the county where the defendant is located. If you are suing regarding real estate, such as a lease between a landlord and tenant, you need to file your case in a county where the property is located. Despite these general rules, there are some exceptions. Sometimes the court clerk can help you pick the right county. If you hire a litigation attorney, the attorney will know in which county your case should be filed.
What documents do you create to prepare for starting a lawsuit? In Minnesota State District Court and Conciliation Court, a lawsuit begins when you deliver a Summons and Complaint to the defendant.
So what goes in a Summons and Complaint? Generally, you explain the circumstances in chronological order regarding how you were treated improperly under the law. This is where you explain what the defendant did wrong, how the defendant’s wrongful action caused harm to you, and precisely what type of harm you suffered. For example, if the defendant breached a contract, mentioned the date and name of the contract, quote the language from the contract that the defendant breached, explain what the defendant did that was a breach of the contract, state how the defendant’s actions caused harm to you, and described the precise harm or damages that you suffered. This advice is sufficient for Conciliation Court, but for state District Court in Minnesota, you should usually use an attorney who understands all the legal requirements.
In District Court, if a Summons and Complaint doesn’t include everything that is required by law, your entire case to be dismissed. Normally, you can re-file the case again, but you will have to pay a filing fee again. Unlike Conciliation Court, State District Court involve many stages of litigation including discovery (the exchange of evidence and information between the two parties), motions (requests to the judge) that may include the dismissal of claims for the entire case, and other court submissions before trial. For this reason, parties usually hire an attorney in Minnesota State District Court but represent themselves in Conciliation Court. Again, Conciliation Court is only available for lawsuits up to $7500.
To start a lawsuit, you must have someone personally serve (deliver) a Summons and Complaint upon the defendant. The person who serves the documents should not be related to you and should make sure their personally handed to the defendant. There are exceptions to this but there isn’t time to discuss them all here.
In Conciliation Court, the court clerk may state that your particular county has a different method for Conciliation Court. So if you are in Conciliation Court, ask the court clerk how the summons and complaint should be served upon the defendant.
The next step is collecting your money. Read more: Minnesota Collections Attorney: If I Win a Lawsuit, How do I Collect the Money?
Most Minnesota state courts have a self-help counter with basic information. Court clerks normally cannot help you because your questions probably raise answers that could be considered legal advice, and court clerks cannot give legal advice. If you need to research an issue, the reference desk at a law library can be very helpful in helping you identify books on that topic. If none of these options work, you might consider hiring an attorney.
Most attorneys want to represent you or not help at all. However, a few will allow you to hire them for a consultation regarding your case, and you simply pay them by the hour. Although somewhat rare, my firm has been hired on an hourly basis to answer questions from individuals who are representing themselves in a lawsuit.