From the esteemed Bryan Garner:

Garner“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day


Journalists often misuse “lawsuit” (one word) for “complaint” (= the paper that is filed to start a lawsuit) — e.g.:

o “In its 18-page lawsuit [read ‘complaint’], Viacom-owned CBS alleged: ‘”Celebrity” was consciously designed to mimic “Survivor” and unfairly trade on its success.'” Meg James, “CBS Sues to Block New ABC Program,” L.A. Times, 7 Nov. 2002, Bus. section, pt. 3, at 3.

o “The allegations in his 144-page lawsuit [read ‘complaint’] read like a Robin Cook novel.” Lynne Tuohy, “Pfizer Trials Called Cruel, Immoral,” Hartford Courant, 6 Dec. 2002, at A1.

The “lawsuit” is the whole process; the document (however many pages long) is only an instrumental part of it.”