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How to identify defendants when you sue someone

Finding and naming defendants

It is essential to name the correct Defendants (or Respondents as they are referred to in ADR) when you sue someone in a civil lawsuit. You always need to look to the finish line. You want a judgment in the name of the person who caused your damage, and you want that judgment collectible against that person or entity. The best way to do this is to spend time naming and locating your Defendants.


Sit down at your computer, describe what happened and who caused that to happen. If more than one person or entity is responsible for your damage, list them all. Even if a potential party was minimally involved, include them.

🍪 Smart Cookie Tip:  Don’t cut corners here and don’t exclude a Defendant if there is a remote possibility they are liable.

Spend time on this step. It’s really important and can be challenging, so stay focused. Don’t get lost on the internet.

Let’s review the different types of Defendants and how to name them in your case.

  • The states differ on where business entity listings are found. Most often, the state Secretary of State/Commissioner of Corporations, or the like, include all businesses but only some include sole proprietorships which can then be found with the County Clerk’s Office/City Business Tax Office in the locale where the business operates.
  • Information, including contact details for the entity’s agent for service of legal process, is also available where you find these business listings.
a magnifying glass for when you sue  someone in a civil lawsuit

Naming an Individual in a Civil Lawsuit

If you are suing an individual, use the most complete name known for that person. If you just have initials for the first and middle name, do a little online research and fill in the blanks.  It is better to sue someone in as complete a name as possible, as long as it is the right one!

If a person uses several names list the name they most often go by then “aka            ”, for instance

John C. Doe aka John Clever Doe.

Naming an Individually Owned Businesses when you Sue Someone

This would include sole proprietorships and single-person limited liability companies (LLCs). For a sole proprietorship list the name of the owner and the name of the business, for instance

John C. Doe, individually and dba Doe Repair Shop, and Doe Repair Shop, a sole proprietorship.

For the LLC, list the single owner’s name and the LLC name separately, for instance

John C. Doe, individually and as single owner of Doe, LLC, and Doe, LLC, a CA LLC.

You will locate an LLC at the state level and perhaps also the sole proprietorship, but if not the latter, go to the local City /County described above in the red box.

Naming a General Partnership when Suing Somone in a Civil Lawsuit

All partners in a general partnership are liable for the acts of the business. You should list the names of all the business partners, even if your dispute is only with one, and the name of the partnership. For instance

John Doe, Peter Doe, Eve Doe, individually and as general partners of Doe Partnership, and Doe Partners, a California general partnership.

Naming a Limited Partnership when Suing Somone in a Civil Lawsuit

If you are suing a limited partnership, list the name of the partnership itself and the general partner(s). Do not list the limited partners. For instance

John Doe and Peter Doe, individually and as general partners of Doe Limited Partnership, and Doe Limited Partnership, a Texas general partnership.

Naming Corporations and Limited Liability Companies when Suing Someone

For corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) you will not sue the owners, officers, or managers as individuals unless it is a single-person LLC, addressed above under Individually Owned Businesses. For instance

Doe, Inc., a Florida corporation
Doe, LLC, a Washington LLC

🍪 Smart Cookie Tip: Ordinarily, with exceptions, you may sue a corporation or LLC in your state if it does business there, even if its headquarters are in another state.

Sue Someone in a Motor Vehicle Accident Lawsuit

Special rules apply to motor vehicle accidents. In most states, if your claim arises from an accident with a vehicle, you should name both the driver of the vehicle and the registered owner as defendants. Just list them in their individual capacities, for instance John Doe, Jane Doe


🍪 Smart Cookie Tip: If there was no police report, and you have the license number of the offending vehicle, contact the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Tell them you want to find out the name and address of the vehicle’s owner for purposes of filing a lawsuit based on a motor vehicle accident. This is a legitimate reason in most states, and you will get the information you need.

FINDING YOUR DEFENDANTS when you sue someone in a civil lawsuit

Once you’re done naming your Defendants, you will have to serve them with your claim or lawsuit. So, while you are researching naming them, research finding them. If an agent for service of process is named in their business listing, service will be made on that person/entity.


Be sure to doublecheck the laws in your state to make sure this information is applicable.

Go this page which is a California courts self-help page. It’s very good. The information likely applies to all states.

Nolo Press also is a credible resource.

As DIY has become exponentially more popular, legal self-help resources have become more common both with the courts and online generally. Legal laypersons are becoming more and more self-empowered and want to take justice in their own hands.

You can get lost in it all, so stay focused and come back to this site if you get confused.

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