How to Respond to a Summons in California

By Shannon Leigh O'Neil
Timing is everything when it comes to responding to a judicial summons.

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Responding to a summons and promptly filing it with the court are crucial first steps for any defendant in a civil case. When you file a response to a judicial summons, you demonstrate a challenge to the litigating party, known as the plaintiff. In order to win, the plaintiff must prove their case at trial.

Read the complaint carefully when you are served with a summons. Think about your answer and make some notes. Gather any supporting documents to help you. In California civil courts, you will need to fill out a form for your response, so don't type out your own document. You can and should write some notes for yourself, however, before you file your response.

Download forms for your answer. Blank response forms are available online for specific types of cases -- for example, breach of contract, property damage and personal injury. These forms are available on the California Courts website under Forms & Rules. You can also download forms from US Court Forms, If these forms do not fit your needs, you can type your response on pleading paper. Consult the Sacramento County Public Law Library website for sample responses.

Complete the appropriate response form, answering each allegation that you wish to challenge. Admit or deny the specific claims brought against you in the plaintiff's complaint. Remember that any statements made by the plaintiff that are not refuted will be regarded as true by the court. Any defenses to the plaintiff's allegations must be brought up in your response. All essential facts supporting your defense must also be included. If you don't present a specific point in your answer, you will not be allowed thereafter to use it as a defense.

File your answer to a summons promptly. In most civil lawsuits, you are required by law to file your written response with the court within 30 days after being served with a summons. If you fail to answer on time, the plaintiff may obtain a default judgment. This means the other side wins the case automatically and the court will no longer give your argument consideration. The winning party can collect this judgment by garnishing your paycheck and putting liens against your property or bank accounts. Avoid a default judgment simply by filing your answer to a summons in a timely manner.

Allow plenty of travel time if driving to a courthouse. You will need to file your answer well before closing time to allow for standing in line or making document copies.

About the Author

Shannon Leigh O'Neil, a New York City-based arts and culture writer, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "GO Magazine," "The New York Blade" and "HX Magazine," as well as online media. O'Neil holds a Master of Arts in modern art history from the City College of New York, where she also studied French and minored in classical languages.

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