Civil Lawsuits FAQ

What types of cases are filed in civil court?

The most common civil suits involve claims for money or property worth over $10,000. If the claim involves money or property worth $10,000 or less, it must be filed in small claims court. Other types of civil suits are declaratory judgments and appeals from government agency decisions.

How do I start a civil case? 

A civil lawsuit is usually started with the filing of a Summons and a Complaint.   A Summons is a notice that informs the defendant (the person being sued) that a lawsuit has been filed. A Complaint is a document in which the plaintiff (the person who files the lawsuit) says why they are suing the defendant and what they want the court to do. There is also a filing fee that must be paid, which varies by type of case. The fee is paid and the documents are filed in Room 104 of the Courthouse.

Does the court provide forms for the Summons and Complaint?

No. Summonses and Complaints may be different in each case. The court can’t tell you what type of information it must contain, as the information must be specific to your case. See Chapter 801, Wisconsin Statutes. The Milwaukee County Law Library (Room G8 of the Courthouse) may have formbooks that show you how to format your summons and complaint, but you must hire an attorney if you want information on what to write.

What happens after I file?

Once you file, you must have the defendant personally served. You can use the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department (located on the First Floor in Room 102 of the Safety Building - $60.00 for up to 3 attempts), if the defendant lives in Milwaukee County. You may also hire a private process server. You may not serve the defendant yourself. You may not mail the papers.

When do I get to go to court?

A civil case has many court hearings. You must appear in person for each one. The first is generally a Scheduling Conference, where the judge sets deadlines for discovery and other things that the judge may order to happen.

What is discovery? 

Wisconsin law allows each party to find out about the evidence and witnesses that the other party may use at trial. Some discovery is done in writing (for example, Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents). Some discovery is done in person (for example, Depositions). The court cannot help you with discovery. The Legal Resource Center may have more information about the various types of discovery.

What happens at trial? Do I get to tell the judge or jury my story?

Civil trials are formal events. If you do not have an attorney, you must act as your own attorney. The judge cannot assist you, because he or she must remain neutral. You must prove your case to the judge or jury by submitting evidence and by having witnesses testify for you. You can also testify on your own behalf. The defendant (or their attorney) may question your witnesses and you can question the defendant’s witnesses. However, there are rules about what kinds of evidence and testimony you can present and how it is presented and the judge will make you follow those rules, even though you are not an attorney.

If I need an attorney, how do I find one? Can the court appoint one for me?

There are no court-appointed attorneys for civil cases. If you need an attorney, you can call the Milwaukee Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (414) 274-6768. If income is an issue, you need to tell the Lawyer Referral Service that information. They may be able to help you find an attorney.

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