A federal judge in Florida recently “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.”
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:
As indicated in Plaintiff’s response to 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.
Capitalize Plaintiff, Defendant, and Court if (1) they are the plaintiff, defendant, or court in the case you’re litigating or (2) you are using Court to refer to the U.S. Supreme Court:
Defendant was not Plaintiff’s employer.
The Court subsequently denied Defendant’s motion.
But lowercase plaintiff, defendant, and court if (1) they are the plaintiff, defendant, or court in a case you’re citing or (2) if you’re referring to plaintiffs, defendants, and courts generically.
Plaintiff filed this action against the wrong defendant.
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.
. . . 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.”
(Note that here the lawyer didn’t need the quotation marks in the first place.)
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.”