What is a bill of particulars?
A bill of particulars is a written document in which a party has to explain the allegations in his/her complaint, or petition, in more detail. The respondent in a lawsuit might request a bill of particulars if the complaint has general allegations without getting into the specific details that would be necessary for the respondent to properly defend him/herself in the case. In other words, a bill of particulars is a discovery tool that can be used by a respondent to figure out what the other party is claiming happened. Usually, requests for bill of particulars are sent out before depositions happen, and before other forms of discovery, so that the other party has a more complete sense of the allegations against him/her. If there is a complaint filed by one party and a counter-complaint filed by the other party, both parties may request a bill of particulars against each other. This way, the parties can start to understand what the other side’s “theory of the case” will be – in other words, what the party is trying to prove to the judge so that s/he can get the outcome and the relief s/he is looking for.
Once you know what the other side is trying to prove to the judge, you can better prepare for depositions or trial. If a bill of particulars does not explain enough of the case to support the lawsuit, then the other party might be able to file a motion to dismiss the claim.
How do I request a bill of particulars?
You can request that the other side provide a bill of particulars by sending a written “demand for a bill of particulars.” In your demand for a bill of particulars, you will ask the other side to expand on or explain their allegations. You have to point out the specific allegation that you want the other side to expand on and make sure s/he knows what other information or explanation you need. If you are not specific enough when you request a bill of particulars, the other side might not respond and will instead object to your request. For example, let’s say in your divorce case, your husband files for full custody and mentions in the petition that you don’t let him see the child enough. You likely would not be able to ask a question like, “Why don’t you think I would be a good custodial parent?” because that is too general. However, you could ask, “Please set forth specific examples of Defendant’s alleged interference with Plaintiff’s parental relationship with the child.”
How do I respond to a request for a bill of particulars?
When you receive a request for a bill of particulars, you should first read it over very carefully and then read your complaint or petition. You need to think about what it is that you need to prove to the judge in order to win your case and then explain in more detail the general allegations that you made in your complaint or petition. For example, if you filed a divorce action based on the ground of cruel and inhuman treatment, you may have just alleged in your petition that you were “subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment during the marriage.” The request for a bill of particulars may say: “Defendant hereby demands a bill of particulars setting forth the specifics of the alleged cruel and inhuman treatment.” In the bill of particulars that you write up, you will explain exactly what you meant by cruel and inhuman treatment, while keeping in mind what you can prove at trial, and the approximate dates that the incidents happened. For example, you might respond with this level of detail for each incident: “On or about December 28, 2018 at 7:00 pm the Defendant shoved Plaintiff to the ground in the kitchen of their marital home and struck Plaintiff approximately 12 times with closed fists. These blows landed around the head, neck, and shoulder area of the Defendant. The Defendant suffered a broken nose as a result of the blows, along with other physical pain and bruising. Plaintiff estimates the entire attack to have lasted three to five minutes.”
Make sure you are truthful and accurate in your bill of particulars because any inconsistencies between what you include in the bill and testimony that you give in a deposition or trial can be used to damage your credibility and your case. If there are certain incidents that happened for which you cannot recall details and others where you can vividly remember details, you may decide to only include the ones that you know you can testify to.
If a statute controls your case, meaning that the specific things you need to prove to get the relief you are asking for are set out in a state or federal law, then you should read the statute to see if there are certain things that you need to prove; these are called “elements.” You will need to keep the elements of the case in mind as you are expanding on your claims in the bill of particulars. If you do not cover all of the necessary elements, then the judge might dismiss your claim. For example, if you are suing an abusive partner in civil court for money damages because you were harassed, you might sue based on “intentional inflection of emotional distress.” Generally, the elements that you’d need to prove might be that:
- the defendant acted intentionally;
- the conduct was extreme or outrageous;
- this harassment caused severe emotional distress.