Unpaid Freelancer Lawsuit in Brooklyn Civil Court

Docs for freelancer lawsuit against ex-client for unpaid invoice. Docs are tailored to Brooklyn Civil Court rules. BK Civil handles disputes $5k and $25k (too big for small claims, but too small for BK Supreme).

Talk to your lawyer to see if litigation is right for you.

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Note: This is a work in progress. It will give you the gist of a lawsuit in BK Civil court. 

Inspired by: Worlds Longest Invoice, but all freelancers here are fictitious. Any resemblance to any real freelancer, sara or otherwise, is purely coincidental.

 

 

Demand Letter

Before going to court, write a formal demand letter. Remind your ex-client exactly what he owes you, show him a copy of the contract he signed, and let him know you are inclined to take this matter to court. Send it by snail mail and get a return receipt (first class + return receipt ($2.35) + certified mail (optional, $2.80).

This sample demand letter is just a skeleton. Hang the meat on its bones as appropriate for your case. Put some time and thought into it, because you can recycle most of the content for your other legal documents.  

Client Name
Client Address
Client City/State/Zip 

CERTIFIED MAIL

RE:  Unpaid Invoice for Web Development Work

Dear  Mr. Client Name:

This is a formal demand letter for amounts due on my January 1, 2012 invoice.  

As you know, the invoice is for [[web development services]] I performed for you between January 1, 2012 and January 1, 2012.  These services were performed pursuant to the contract we signed on [[January 1, 2012]].

[[additional details here, about your performed all the work, did a great job, worked hard, etc.]]

Payment was due on [[January 1, 2012]], and it is now over [[6 months late]]. I have already extended every possibly courtesy to you, and given you substantial additional time to make payments.

You have breached our contract by failing to adhere to the payment schedule, and your account are now at least $20,000 dollars in arrears.

Please acknowledge receipt of this letter within 5 business days. And please make your payment for the amount due within 30 days. Make your payment by bank transfer or money order. [or whatever your payment terms might be.]

If I do not receive your acknowledgement within 5 business days, or do not receive your full payment within 30 days, I will be forced to take the steps necessary to protect and enforce my rights.  No other written notice or demand will be given.

Please contact me at (123) 456 7654 or sfreelance@gmail.com to resolve this matter. 

 

 

x ____________________

Sara Freelance
123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
123 432 3456
sfreelance@gmail.com

 

 

Summons for Breach of Contract

The “summons” is a formal invitation to show up at court. If you follow the procedure correctly, its an invitation that can't be refused.

The "summons and complaint" together start up the lawsuit. Fill in the details, print 3 or 4 copies, and go to Court to buy an "Index Number." (more on that later)


CIVIL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

KINGS COUNTY

 

------------------------------------------

Sara Freelance

Plaintiff,

   v.

Client Name

Defendant.

_________________________

Index No. 000000

you will buy an "index number" at court,
explained below.

Summons & Complaint

Plaintiff’s Residence: 

123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Basis for Venue is: 
Plaintiff’s Residence

 

Mr. Client Name:

You are hereby summoned to appear in the Civil Court of the City of New York, County of Kings, at the office of the Clerk of the said Court at 141 Livingston St., in Brooklyn, NY, within the time provided by law as noted below and to file your answer to the attached Complaint with the Clerk. If you fail to do so, judgment will be taken against you for the sum of $20,000, with interest from August 1, 2012, together with the costs of this action

 

Dated: Dated

x ____________________

Sara Freelance
123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
123 432 3456
sfreelance@gmail.com

 

The text below should be included verbatim, on the second page of your summons.

NOTE: The law provides that:

(a) if this summons is served by its delivery to you personally within the City of New York, you must appear and answer within TWENTY days after such service; or

(b) if this summons is served by delivery to any person other than you personally, or is served outside the City of New York, or by publication, or by any means other than personal delivery to you within the City of New York, you are allowed THIRTY days after the proof of service thereof is filed with the Clerk of this Court within which to appear and answer.

 

 

Complaint for Breach of Contract

the Complaint is the first thing the Judge (or law clerk) will read. The first paragraph should read like a newspaper article: who what when where why. Then get into the procedural requirements, the specifics of your case, and why the defendant is an utterly contemptible non-human.  

CIVIL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

KINGS COUNTY

 

------------------------------------------

Sara Freelance

Plaintiff,

   v.

Client Name

Defendant.

_________________________

Index No. 000000

Complaint for Breach of Contract 

 

Plaintiff’s Residence: 

123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Basis for Venue is: 
Plaintiff’s Residence

 

Summary

[one paragraph synopsis of the problem. For example: ]

Sara Freelance is suing Client Name for breach of contract. Mr. Client Name hired Ms. Freelance to [develop software], according to the terms of the January 1, 2012 service agreement (the “Contract”, attached as Exhibit A). According to the Contract, Ms. Freelance was to be paid $20,000,  for her services. Ms. Freelance has completed the work, yet Mr. Client Name stubbornly refuses to pay.

Jurisdiction and Venue

 

1. Jurisdiction. As set forth in CPLR 302, this court has jurisdiction because both parties are domiciled in NY State.

2. Venue. Plaintiff Sara Freelance currently resides in Kings County. Specifically, 123 Address Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201. As provided in CPLR 503, “the place of trial shall be in the county in which one of the parties resided when it was commenced.” Plaintiff’s residence satisfies this requirement.

3. Amount at Issue. Plaintiff’s damages include $20,000, in unpaid principal, and in addition, the accrued interest.

Parties

4. Plaintiff Sara Freelance is a natural person residing at 123 Address St. Brooklyn, NY 11201.

5. Upon information and belief, Defendant  Client Name is an individual residing in Manhattan and doing business from an office located at [[321 West 25th Street, 8th Floor, in Manhattan]].

Facts

6. Mr.  Client Name hired Ms. Freelance to develop certain software.

7. The parties signed a service agreement (the “Contract”, Exhibit A) setting out the details of their arrangement. Freelance Affidavit ¶ 5.

8. Ms. Freelance performed the services according to the contract. [add your relevant details here. Include any evidence that shows you actually did the work. ]

9. Payment due. [describe how much you were supposed to be paid under the contract,]

First Cause of Action: Breach of Contract

Be sure to include these 4 points in your complaint: 1. A valid contract exists between you and the defendant, 2. you did your part of the bargain, 3. Ex-Client failed to do his part (he didn't pay), 4. this failure caused you some "damage" (i.e., you lost money - this is obvious, but state it anyway).

10. Defendant is liable to Plaintiff for the unpaid amount due on the Contract.

11. Valid Contract. The service agreement is valid contract between the parties.

12. Performance. Plaintiff, Ms. Freelance has performed the work described in the Contract.

13. Breach. Defendant has breached the contract by failing to make payments according to the contract terms.

14. Damages. As a result of Mr. Client Name's breach, Ms. Freelance has been damaged in the amount of the unpaid principal and accrued interest. The unpaid principal is $20,000. The accrued interest is $3,231.34.

Prayer for Relief

The judge is now your goddess. Pray to her for relief. (this is some old-timey court slang, but required).

15. Plaintiff moves for entry of judgment against Defendant in the amount of $23,231.35, together with costs and attorneys’ fees.

 

Dated: Dated

x ____________________

Sara Freelance
123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
123 432 3456
sfreelance@gmail.com

 

 

 

Affidavit of Sara Freelance

The “complaint” is the first document a Judge will read. It summarizes the problem: You signed a contract to do work in exchange for money, you did the work, and now you kinda need the money.

CIVIL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

KINGS COUNTY

 

_______________________

Sara Freelance

Plaintiff,

 v.

Client Name

.Defendant.

_________________________

...................................................

Index No. 000000

Affidavit

of Sara Freelance

In Support of Complaint

for Breach of Contract

 

Summary of Action

[Short synopsis. Just remind the judge what’s going on. For example: ]

Sara Freelance is suing Mr. Client Name for unpaid invoices. Mr. Client Name hired Ms. Freelance to develop software. Freelance performed the work. Mr. Client Name refuses to pay.

Affidavit of Sara Freelance

I, Sara Freelance, affirm under penalty of perjury, that the following is true:

  1. I am the plaintiff in this action.
  2. I live at 123 Address Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201.
  3. I am bringing this action to recover the sum of $20,000 and the accrued interest.
  4. The action is based on a breach of contract. A true and correct copy of the contract at issue is attached as Exhibit 1.
  5. Mr. Client hired me to develop software on January 1, 2012.
  6. Mr. Client agreed to payment milestone set forth in the contract.
  7. I performed all appropriate work and produced the deliverables on time and according to specification.
  8. [relevant details]
  9. [more relevant details]
  10. [more relevant details, etc]
  11. I sent Mr. Client a letter, on March 1, 2012. This letter demanded payment under the terms of the Contract.
  12. Mr. Client refused to make any payments.
  13. I sent Mr. Client a second letter on April 15, 2012, again demanding payment.
  14. Mr. Client again refused to pay the amount due under the contract.
  15. Mr. Client now owes $20,000 under the terms of the Contract, as well as $2,321.36 in accrued interest.
  16. I have read this Affidavit in its entirety, and certify under penalty of perjury that it is true and based on my personal knowledge. Any portion based on information and belief has been identified as such.

 

Dated: Dated

x ____________________

Sara Freelance
123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
123 432 3456
sfreelance@gmail.com

 

Notary Public:

You need to sign the affidavit in front of a Notary. This is your evidence. And be sure to keep it 100% honest.

 

Exhibit 1: Service Contract

Attach your contract here. If you didn't get a signed contract from the client, you might still be able to get paid, but it will not be easy.

 

Exhibit 2: Some Other Evidence

Attach anything other documents or emails that show you did the work.

 

Go to Court & Buy an Index Number.

Time for the first trip to court. Bring 3 copies of all your finished documents and $45 cash. 

Brooklyn Civil court is located at 141 Livingston St. by the Jay St Metrotech stop. http://goo.gl/maps/Kf7qv

Go up to the Cashier on the third floor. Pay them $45 (bring cash, get a receipt). The cashier/clerk will stamp the cover pages of your summons and complaint with an "index number." They will also take the original  (signed in ink) copy of all your docs. 

Hours. Court is open from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., but you can only buy a Index Number until 3:30pm. 

Call the court if you have questions:

  • General Info. (212) 791-6000
  • Civil (347) 404-9123

Be super-polite to every court employee. The line will be long, and you will be have to wade through several drunks and crazies. Brooklyn Civil Court is a lot of Brooklyn.  

 

 

Affidvait of Service

 

After you buy the Index Number, You need to "Serve" the defendant with a copy of each paper. Do NOT hand the defendant any papers yourself. Instead, you want to hire a "Process Server" -- essentially a dude who delivers legal papers.

Pro Tip: Serve By Email. With the defendant's permission, you can serve the papers by email. Write the defendant an email saying that you have some legal papers to send. Ask if he wants them delivered in paper or emailed by PDF. Most people just want a PDF. E-mail permission will save you a hundred bucks on a process server.  

 

CIVIL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

KINGS COUNTY

 

------------------------------------------

Sara Freelance

Plaintiff,

   v.

 Client Name

Defendant.

_________________________

Index No. 000000

Affidavit of Service 

 

 

 

 

I hereby certify under penalty of perjury that on [DATE], I served defendant a true and correct copy of the Summons and Complaint.  

The documents were served by electronic mail, pursuant to agreement of the parties, on Mr.  Client Name at the email address ClientName@gmail.com.

Defendant confirmed by email: “I am confirming that I have received this email and attached documents.”

Dated: Dated

x ____________________

Sara Freelance
123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
123 432 3456
sfreelance@gmail.com

 Notary Public:

Sign the affidavit in front of a Notary. 

 

 

Go back to Court: File the Affidavit of Service

Yep, another trip to court. Sorry about that.

 

Negotiate a Settlement

All your papers are filed, the lawsuit has begun. In a few weeks, a judge might actually skim through your papers. Use this time to negotiate a settlement. The ex-client should know you're serious about collecting, and knows that he will have to spend thousands on a lawyer to defend it (and if your complaint is legit, he will lose anyway). This is your settlement leverage. Negotiate a nice reasonable deal, and get paid with a bank-check or similar.

 

Stipulation of Discontinuance

After you've settled and been paid, remember to let the court know. Filing a Stipulation of Discontinuance allows the Judge to close the file on your case. (if you've done it right, the judge has barely opened the file).  

CIVIL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

KINGS COUNTY

 

------------------------------------------

Sara Freelance

Plaintiff,

   v.

 Client Name

Defendant.

_________________________

Index No. 000000

Stipulation

of Discontinuance 

 

 

 

Plaintiff Sara Freelance files this stipulation of discontinuance, pursuant to CPLR 3217(a)(2), between the respective parties that the above action be dismissed without prejudice and without costs to either of the parties.

This was an action to recover $23,435.45 on a service contract. Defendant has paid sufficient funds to settle the matter.

 

Dated: Dated

x ____________________

Sara Freelance
123 Address St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
123 432 3456
sfreelance@gmail.com

Document Discussion

Before you threaten legal action, be sure you're able to do so. Check out your rights, check out how to sue, check out what it will cost. Don't make empty threats.

Mike, what further info do you think this should include? Cost is easy: filing fee is $45 (plus many hours of wasted time at 141 Livingston). "Rights" and "How to Sue" are much broader questions. I included superficial info in this doc, but the details (i think) are beyond Docracy's scope and purpose. "empty threats" aren't necessarily bad. Implausible threats are useless. But a credible threat of litigation may lead to a fair settlement. Of course, there are always risks. Anyway, let me know what I could add to make the doc a little more useful.

ps. there were paragraph breaks in that comment. Disqus (or whatever) just ignored them. >:-0

This is really 4 or 5 documents plus instructions. Should I separate them out? Maybe I could link them together with instructions in a blog post?

That's probably best! You can mention the attached documents in the description as well. We'll probably release a feature to link documents to each other sooner or later, thanks for bearing with us!

Eric Adler

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