Four Motion Mistakes

A federal judge in Florida once “corrected” dozens of errors in a routine motion. He mainly fixed typos, but he also marked up several types of errors that many excellent writers make. Here are four examples; the sample sentences are from the judge’s corrected version.

1. Faulty Capitalization of ‘Order’ and ‘Motion’

Throughout the judge’s mark-up, he changes “order” to “Order” and “Motion” to “motion.” What gives?

The convention is to lowercase these words when they are used generically to describe a category of actions or papers:

Defendant in this action has filed a motion to dismiss.

But to capitalize the words when they describe a specific document:

But they disagree, as indicated in Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

Plaintiff hereby files this Response to the Court’s Order.

2. Faulty Capitalization of ‘Plaintiff,’ ‘Defendant,’ and ‘Court’

This judge knows his capitalization rules. The rule here is like the rule for orders and motions.

Uppercase: Capitalize Plaintiff, Defendant, or Court if (1) they are the plaintiff, defendant, or court in the case you’re litigating; or (2) you’re using Court to refer to the U.S. Supreme Court:

Defendant was not Plaintiff’s employer.

The Court subsequently denied Defendant’s motion.

Lowercase: Use a lowercase plaintiff, defendant, or court if (1) they are the plaintiff, defendant, or court in a case you’re citing; or (2) you’re referring to plaintiffs, defendants, and courts generically:

Plaintiff filed this action against the wrong defendant.

There, the plaintiff failed to yield to oncoming traffic.

3. Faulty Punctuation of Quoted Material

This judge is no Anglophile. He insists that his lawyers follow American usage rules for punctuating quoted material. And that means you must put periods and commas inside the closed quotation marks (even if the quoted text does not have a period or comma there).

Plaintiff sought relief against the Good Samaritan Society,” that being a fictitious name for Defendant.

And no, there’s no exception for a single word—or even a single letter.

See Exhibit “A.”

4. Faulty Use of Ordinal Numbers

Unless you’re writing a date in the “1st of January, 2010” format, always spell out ordinal numbers. That’s why the judge objected to “7th Judicial Circuit.” As he suggests, it should be “Seventh Judicial Circuit.”

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