Captions are the words and formatting at the top of the first page of all filed-court documents. Captions list the court, the jurisdiction, the case number, and the names of the original plaintiff(s) and defendants(s). Within the caption area at the top of the first page, there is space for the court to stamp its endorsement, after the document or form is accepted and stamped by the court. (See our I Need A Copy Of The Judgment Article).
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer. Most courts require the caption, the top part of the first page of a document, to be separated on the left and right.
At the top left side of captions, is the name of the plaintiff or the lawyer representing them; and their contact information. Next, the plaintiff and defendant party names, separated by a “v.” The right side identifies the docket and/or case number, and if known, the presiding judge’s name. Usually the remaining part of captions are in capital letters. Next is the type of court (e.g., District Court), the county and state. Usually, the last part of captions, in bold and capital letters, is the action (judge or commissioner signing) that is being requested, for example: DECLARATION, AFFIDAVIT OF IDENTITY, Proposed ORDER, AND POINTS OF AUTHORITIES.
The names listed on the caption of a judgment have nothing to do with who owes money on the judgment or how much they owe. A caption of Smith VS Jones might be on a judgment that makes only Clark liable to pay the judgment. A caption could name five defendants and three plaintiffs, and the body of that judgment (somewhere) might specify only one defendant owes one plaintiff. The caption of another judgment might have 20 plaintiffs and defendants, yet that judgment only specified that two plaintiffs owe money to two judgment debtors.
Somewhere in the body of a judgment will be an explanation of who owes what. Most judgments are crystal clear and directly specify who owes what; or after several subtotals are listed in the body of the judgment, include a summary that clearly lists what is owed by each judgment debtor.
Some judgments are vague, and some spread the details on what is owed into many sections on several pages without a summary. Without a clear summary of who owes what, a lot of time can be wasted in every post-judgment recovery action. Each time, it can take hours of debating with court clerks, and sometimes also a decision from a judge, to decide what the judgment actually meant.
Every state and court has their own laws and rules on how documents must be formatted, including what court document captions must contain. Depending on the court and clerk, a mistake in the caption words or formatting, or on any other part of a court pleading or document, could result in a rejection by a court clerk. Worse yet, a mistake first accepted by a court clerk might later open the door that could let the other side persuade a judge to dismiss your filing or motion