This article is part of our Anatomy of a Lawsuit series, where Attorney Travis Charles Smith provides accurate information about the legal process in Oklahoma. If you have questions about the process that are not covered in this article series, please send us your question by email and we will be happy to answer it.
In Oklahoma, a lawsuit is initiated by the filing of a Petition. A Petition is simply a plain statement of the facts that identifies the parties, what happened, and why the defendant should pay the plaintiff a sum of money. The petition is signed by the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s lawyer, and is then served on the defendant(s).
Requirements for all Lawsuits in Oklahoma
There are certain requirements that a Plaintiff must meet in order to survive a motion to dismiss.
The petition must clearly state a valid legal claim.
If the petition states that the plaintiff suffered some harm, but which doesn’t amount to a valid claim or seeks relief that is not recoverable under Oklahoma law, then the petition has failed to state a legal claim and should be dismissed.
The Petition should clearly establish Jurisdiction and Venue
What is the proper court in which to file the lawsuit? Such is the law of jurisdiction and venue apply.
Jurisdiction involves whether the court has the proper authority to hear either the subject matter of the case or to bind the parties involved. Venue refers to the specific courthouse or county where the lawsuit is filed. Both of These topics are best left for another article. But for purposes of this article, you must understand that a complete stranger (a judge or a lawyer) should be able to read your Petition and recognize where jurisdiction and venue lie.
If the facts are complete, the facts alone should be enough to identify the property county where the case should be heard and jurisdiction should be obvious.
The Petition should state the facts of the case
The petition need not state complete details. But there must be some facts alleged, not just mere legal allegations. For example, “the defendant was negligent” is a not a statement of fact but is a proposed legal conclusion. Something such as, “the defendant was driving, failed to devote reasonable attention to the road, and collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle,” is a statement of fact, that at least supports the legal conclusion of negligence.
What is the procedure for initiating the lawsuit in Oklahoma?
Once the lawsuit has been drafted, conforming to the basic requirements above, the lawsuit must be filed with the clerk of the court in the county where the lawsuit should be filed (i.e. the court with proper Venue).
You must pay the filing fee to the clerk to have the petition filed and a case number assigned.
After filing the lawsuit, you must serve the lawsuit on the defendant(s). You may use certified mail or hire the sheriff or a private process server to serve the lawsuit, i.e. hand-deliver it to the defendant. Personal service is preferred, as it prevents the defendant from claiming that did not have notice that the case was ever filed against them.
Once the lawsuit is served, the defendant(s) will have 20 days to file an Answer. They may also file an automatic 20 day extension upon entry of appearance by their attorney, which puts their answer time at forty days.
Once the defendants respond to the discovery, the burden is on the plaintiff to move the case along and get it to trial.
Do you need a lawyer to file a lawsuit in Oklahoma
No, you do not. But you also may not ask the court clerk or any courthouse staff for help and you certainly cannot ask the judge what to do, as that would violate the neutrality of the court system.