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I Have Been Served With a Complaint, Now What?

Civil LitigationYou may or may not know it is coming. There has been a dispute on-going for a while, unfortunately you and your adversary are miles apart in reaching an agreement. Threats of legal action have been made, but nothing has materialized. Until you get that knock at your door and someone says, “Are you Mr. Joe Smith? This is for you.”

It is a summons and a complaint. You have been served.

Once you get over the frustration and the anger of what has just happened, it is time to review your documents to find out what is required of you. The complaint sets out the allegations against you. But the summons is what gives you the directions on what you must do next. If you are being sued for less than $5,000.00, your case will be in Small Claims Court and your summons will instruct you one way. If you are being sued for over $5,000.00 then your summons will instruct you another way. Let’s take a look at both.

In a Small Claims case, the summons you were served with will give you a date and time and location to appear. The time frame could be a week or could be a month out, depending on the court’s docket. Your initial appearance is generally called the Pretrial Conference and its purpose is to confer with the other side, narrow the issues, and in some jurisdictions, attend mediation at no cost to either party. Written pretrial motions and pleadings are not necessary and if filed prior to the Pretrial Conference, will not waive or forgive your personal appearance.

If you are served with a summons and are being sued for over $5,000.00, your case is in either County Court or Circuit Court. The summons you receive will direct you to file a response to the complaint within twenty (20) days of being served with the summons. You must file a response or a default could be entered against you. Your type of response may vary, depending on what you are being sued for and the legal basis stated in the complaint. You can either file an answer directed to the complaint, where you respond to each and every allegation made against you, or you can file a motion to dismiss if you believe that the complaint has some sort of defect that makes it difficult for you to competently respond.

As always, consult with a lawyer or legal aid if you have been served with a summons and a complaint to determine what options you have and what option works best for your situation. You may also visit your local Law Library for assistance in finding the rules of court that govern your action.

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