Receiving a summons can be a scary for someone who has no prior experience with litigation and court procedures. A summons is a notification that someone has filed a lawsuit against you, so you now have an opportunity to respond with your side of the story. This is why it is important that you answer the summons correctly, as it is the first step that you will take to defend yourself in litigation. Pay close attention to the deadline for your response and the court’s rules for styling and filing your answers.
Review the summons, the complaint (which should be attached) and any other documents. Determine who filed the claim against you (the plaintiff or petitioner), why it was filed and what the allegation are. Start by reading the case caption, which is listed at the top of the complaint, then closely review the summons and complaint to learn more about the lawsuit.
Determine how much time you have to file your answer to the summons. Civil matters require the defendant, or respondent, to answer within a certain number of days, depending on the jurisdiction and nature of the case. The length of time that you have to file an answer should be stated on the original summons. If not, you may contact the clerk of the court where the plaintiff/petitioner filed the complaint for more information.
Draft your initial response using a scratch piece of paper. Use the complaint as your guide. Read each section of the complaint and prepare an individual response for each one. Your answers should be concise and either “affirm,” “deny,” “partially affirm/partially deny” or be “unknown at this time.” For any response other than “affirm” or “unknown,” also draft a paragraph detailing your version of events. Explicitly disprove claims that you deny, whenever possible. You may use other documents that you have on hand related to the matter to help you form your responses. Make sure that you deny all allegations that you dispute and provide your version of events for each denial you make.
Type your answer to the summons on your computer, with your initial draft as a guide. Each court has specific rules governing how your answer must be styled. If this information was not included with the summons, you may contact the court clerk for assistance. Following the court’s rules, type your answer to each individual section, using the same alphanumeric labels utilized in the original summons and complaint, so that your numbered answers match each numbered paragraph in the summons, according to the Florida Court Forms website. Leave a space at the bottom for your signature. Print your completed answer when you are finished.
Sign the bottom of your answer and make a copy. Retain the copy for your personal records, then file the original signed copy with the clerk of the court. There will be a filing fee, which varies depending on the court and the particular matter. You must pay this fee before the clerk will accept your answer for filing.
Make notice of filing following your court’s procedural rules. To do this, make a copy of your filed answer and mail it to the plaintiff/petitioner. Most courts require you to have it hand delivered, such as certified mail through the U.S. Postal Service, a specialized courier service or process server. Ask the court clerk for specific requirements, if you are unsure which method to use.
Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.