Capitalization in Legal Documents

CapitalizationWhether it's due to grey-haired partners insisting on doing things the way they've always been done, legal document software written by style miscreants, or some other reason unknown to the world at large, lawyers tend to flout capitalization rules in their legal documents. And it's not just in heinous discovery documents, but in virtually everything they put their hands on. Here are a few examples:

Discovery

Please produce a signed copy of any agreement/contract/lease between Plaintiff and Defendant(s) regarding your lease for the premises located at 803 SW Military Drive, Suite 116, San Antonio, Texas.

RESPONSE:

Pleadings

The acts and omissions of the Defendants, as complained of herein, constitute misappropriate [sic] of trade secrets and violations of Section 31.05 of the Texas Penal Code and Section 134 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

Prayer

D&M have judgment against the Defendants for actual damages in an amount within the jurisdictional limits of the Court; D&M have judgment against the Defendants in an amount to be determined by the trier of fact;

Motion to Dismiss

That the Defendant in this action filed Motion to Dismiss contending this matter should be dismissed alleging Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies before the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Motion to Remand

Based on the facts and controlling authorities in this Circuit, Defendant cannot have had any good faith belief that it was a corporation or that removal was proper. Accordingly, Plaintiff moves for an award of its attorneys' fees and costs.

The style rules regarding capitalization are straightforward: neither plaintiff or defendant is to be capitalized in a sentence. Thus, Plaintiff should be written as plaintiff and Defendant as defendant unless some other style rule applies. This is also true when plaintiff or defendant is combined with the proper name of a party, e.g., defendant Smith (not Defendant Smith). Documents, too, shouldn't be capitalized unless one is referring to a specific document. So the excerpt of the motion to dismiss cited above should have been written, "That the defendant in this action filed a motion to dismiss contending this matter should be dismissed alleging plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies before the Florida Commission on Human Relations."

Another question that these excerpts raise is why lawyers so love to dehumanize their clients and other parties with legal labels. You never see this in articles, journals, novels, or any other kind of writing. So why do lawyers do it with their motions and appellate briefs? Why not dignify your client by using his real name? Here is a factual scenario excerpt for an appellate brief using legal labels.

The defendant, a meth addict in Fort Worth, also sold the drug to finance his habit. The defendant would drive around town with cellphones and cash, in an old Lincoln Town car outfitted with a secret compartment, doing buys with a multitude of dealers. Defendant buy his meth in bulk—all cash—a pound or two at a time, hide it in his Lincoln’s compartment, and then sell off pieces to his own customers. Financing his addiction this way gave him two things: a hefty profit ($300 an ounce) and the independence to find the best deals in the marketplace.

Sometime in 2008, a confidential informant named “Marty,” introduced the defendant to the co-defendant. The co-defendant was the leader of a family-run drug-trafficking organization that distributed meth in and around Fort Worth. The organization was made up of at least five members, four of which were family. The confidential informant told the co-defendant that defendant was looking to buy some methamphetamine. The confidential source didn’t tell the co-defendant that the defendant was looking to join the organization.

This is how we actually drafted it:

David Vaught, a meth addict in Fort Worth, also sold the drug to finance his habit. He’d drive around town with cellphones and cash, in an old Lincoln Town car outfitted with a secret compartment, doing buys with a multitude of dealers. He’d buy his meth in bulk—all cash—a pound or two at a time, hide it in his Lincoln’s compartment, and then sell off pieces to his own customers. Financing his addiction this way gave him two things: a hefty profit ($300 an ounce) and the independence to find the best deals in the marketplace.

Sometime in 2008, a confidential informant named “Marty,” introduced Vaught to Eric Riojas. Riojas was the leader of a family-run drug-trafficking organization that distributed meth in and around Fort Worth. The organization was made up of at least five members, four of which were family. Marty told Riojas that Vaught was looking to buy some methamphetamine. He didn’t tell him that Vaught was looking to join the organization.

Any time that a lawyer can cut out the legal labels, he should. It makes for better reading and is much more persuasive in any case.