A common reason for pro se cases to be thrown out of court by a judge is because the case fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
It is important to be clear about two things:
1. What your legal problem is.
2. What the law can do about it.
There are many problems which exist in the world that do not have legal solutions. Judges can only make orders where there is a legal reason to make the order. For example, the judge cannot order someone to believe that astronauts never landed on the moon. However, a judge can make a finding that someone broke a rule.
When you are asking the judge to do something about your legal problem you are asking for a remedy. For there to be a legal issue, there must be a remedy. This is also known as “relief.” For example, in a dispute about money a court may order one party to pay the other party a certain sum of money. Payment of that money is the remedy (or relief) that one party was seeking. In a dispute about who certain property belongs to, the Court may order that the property be retained by one person. Keeping that property is the remedy. In a dispute about parenting time, a court may order which days of the week a child spends with a parent. How much time that party gets is the remedy.
Identifying whether there is in fact a legal issue can be tricky, but it is an essential first step. Let’s look at some examples.
Legal Issue or Not?
John refuses to pay Sara for repairing his fence because he says Sara did a bad job.
Yes, it’s a legal issue because the court can determine if there was a contract between John and Sara and whether its terms were fulfilled. The court can decide if John should pay Sara or not.
Seth’s grocery store has stopped stocking his favourite candies. Seth decides to sue to force the store to restock his candies, or pay him damages.
No, there really isn’t a legal issue here. Seth and the grocery store didn’t have a contract that the store supply him with his candies. In this situation, there is no reason for a court to tell a grocery store what to stock.
Ann’s neighbour never says hello to her when she greets him.
No, this isn’t a legal issue. A court cannot make your neighbour be polite.
A neighbour and I are in a dispute about a fence that I built. I feel it is on my property. My neighbour claims that it is on his property. He puts flyers on all the cars in my neighbourhood stating that I am a trespasser and a criminal. He tells me that he will tear down the fence.
Yes, there are legal issues here. The first is whether I had a right to build the fence and, if not, whether my neighbour has grounds to tear it down. The second is whether the neighbour defamed me (libelled me) by putting flyers on cars stating that I was a trespasser and a criminal.
When you decide to represent yourself in court, knowing how to prepare and what to expect of the process is crucial to your success as a pro se litigant. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent you, you can familiarize yourself with the process by reading Devlin Farmer’s book: Representing Yourself In Court (for the American and Canadian audiences respectively). Both editions are available on Amazon, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble, and better bookstores in both Canada and the US.