Best Practices for Preparation of Pleadings

This article is the first in a series of “Best Practices” articles that will be covered in the Legal Procedure section of The Podium. These Best Practices are designed to be of assistance to those new to the legal profession and serve as helpful reminders for the long-time legal professional.

Format of Citations

A common error seen in pleadings is the mixing of citation styles. Rule 1.200 of the California Rules of Court states, “Citations to cases and other authorities in all documents filed in the courts must be in the style established by either the California Style Manual or The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, at the option of the party filing the document. The same style must be used consistently throughout the document.” (Emphasis added.)  Note that the Rule of Court is very clear that the same style must be used (not should or preferred, but MUST). This error often occurs when a citation is copied and pasted from a source such as Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis into the pleading and does not conform with other citations in the document.  Take the time to make sure all citations are formatted in the same style throughout your pleading.

Where to List the Court of Jurisdiction

Most of us know that the name of the court having jurisdiction in the case should be listed on Line 8 of the pleading or below. (California Rule of Court Rule 2.111.(3).)  Unfortunately, we all have seen too many instances of pleadings coming through from other offices (hopefully not yours) where the court’s information begins above Line 8. Again, the Rule of Court uses the term “must” regarding the formatting of the first page of pleadings.

Aligning Text with Pleading Numbers

The numbers on the left side of the page in a pleading serve to give reference to the text in the document. For example, when a judge is reviewing a document your office has submitted for consideration, he/she may make reference to “Page 4, Lines 13-18.”  Also, when your attorney is preparing a Summary of Undisputed Material Facts, he/she will use a notation such as “Smith Decl., 8:21-24” to reference page 8, lines 21-24 of the Smith Declaration. Therefore, it is very important that the text of the pleading aligns with the numbers on the left side.  There is no such thing as “page 8, lines 21.5-24.5.”  Don’t make the judge, opposing counsel, or a court staff attorney have to guess which line(s) to reference. Ensure your document is professional and all text is aligned properly. Use the tools in MS Word and other pleading software platforms to assist with formatting.

Acceptable Fonts and Font Sizes

The California Rules of Court are very specific and clear regarding the size font that may be used for documents submitted to the court for filing: “. . . all papers filed must be prepared using a font size not smaller than 12 points” (Rule of Court 2.104).  Likewise, the style of font is specified in Rule of Court 2.105, as follows: “. . . must be essentially equivalent to Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial.” While it is tempting to use a font such as Calibri, Montserrat, Century, etc., they are not acceptable in California courts and can be used as grounds for rejection of a document.

Footers in Pleadings

Except for exhibits, each paper filed with the court must bear a footer in the bottom margin of each page, placed below the page number and divided from the rest of the document page by a printed line. The footer must contain the title of the paper (examples: “Complaint,” “XYZ Corp.’s Motion for Summary Judgment”) or some clear and concise abbreviation. The title of the paper in the footer must be in at least 10-point font. (California Rule of Court 2.110.)

Capitalization and Bold Face Type

The following should always be typed in “ALL CAPS” when creating a pleading: 1) Title of the court having jurisdiction in the case; 2) Names of all parties identified in the left column of the pleading; and 3) Title of the document listed in the right column of the pleading. While bold-face type is generally not used in pleadings (except for emphasis), it is acceptable and common practice to bold the title of the document in the right column (i.e., DEFENDANT’S OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT).

Page Numbering

Each page of the document must be numbered consecutively at the bottom unless a rule provides otherwise for a particular type of document. The page numbering must begin with the first page and use only Arabic numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3). (Emphasis added.)  The page number for the first page of the document may be suppressed and need not appear on the first page. (California Rule of Court 2.109.)  Previously, the practice was to use lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, etc.) for the table of contents and table of authorities that preceded the actual text of the document, with the first page of text using the Arabic number “1,” meaning there were two styles of numbering in the document.

This wasn’t an issue before electronic filing; however, when documents began being submitted electronically in PDF format, the page numbering of the document did not comport with how the PDF program read the number of pages.  Page 12 of the document might actually be opened as page 16 by the PDF program because of the title page and three pages of Roman-numeral pages of tables at the beginning of the document.  Therefore, the courts now require that ALL pages use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.), even on the pages with table of contents and table of authorities.  Note: the courts do not include title pages and pages with tables for pleadings with statutory page limitations such as briefs, memoranda of points and authorities, oppositions, etc.

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