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The first thing to do when you receive a summons – a notice to appear in court – is to read it, thoroughly, every word. Then write out a detailed response and deliver it to the clerk of court. North Carolina law gives you 30 days to respond to a summons. You must also send a copy of your response to whoever is suing you.
Read It Carefully
The summons comes with a copy of the complaint, the accusations made by the plaintiff suing you. Reading it provides you with important information:
- Who is the plaintiff and what does she want from you?
- Are there multiple plaintiffs or defendants named in the suit?
- What are the arguments or evidence in the complaint for why the plaintiff should get what he wants?
Read the complaint over promptly. If you miss the 30-day deadline to file your answer, the court can issue a default judgment against you, ending the case without you participating.
Draft Your Answer
The civil complaint will break down the facts and allegations in the case into a numbered list. You should respond to each item, using the same numbered system. There are three potential responses:
- Admission. You might admit that your name is A.J. Smith and that you reside at Mockingbird Lane, if this true.
- Denial. If you dispute or are unsure about an allegation of fact in the complaint, deny it.
- A statement that you do not have sufficient information to formulate a reply. If the complaint says that the plaintiff was on his way to church at the time of the accident, you may not be in a position to know one way or the other.
Your answer should also include your affirmative defenses – reasons the court should rule in your favor even if an allegation is true. For example, saying the North Carolina statute of limitations has run out on the plaintiff's claim is an affirmative defense.
Make Your Own Claims
State your counterclaims, cross-claims and third party claims in your answer. A counterclaim is a related suit you may have against the plaintiff. You may have a counterclaim for shoddy service or a defective product if you are being sued for failure to make a payment on a purchased item. A cross-claim is a claim against a co-defendant. A third-party complaint is a related suit against a third party. If you are sued for crashing your car into a fence, you could assert a third-party claim against the motorist who ran the stop sign and caused you to swerve off the road.
Filing and Serving The Answer
When you've finished and signed the answer, make three copies. File one with the clerk of court in whichever county the plaintiff filed suit against you. You can mail it in – double-check you have the right address – or hand deliver it. You must also "serve" the plaintiff's attorney, or the plaintiff himself if he's his own lawyer. To serve him, mail a copy of your answer. Submit a certificate of service to the court with your paperwork, stating the date on which you served the answer.
Understand the difference between the complaint and civil summons. The complaint requires you to draft a written response and send it to the clerk of courts. A civil summons informs you of the time to appear in court.
Read the summons and complaint. The summons tells you important information, including the plaintiff's name, the court where the plaintiff filed the lawsuit and the date you must file the answer. You need the information to prepare your answer.
Prepare a defense. To prepare to appear in court, prepare a defense to the lawsuit. A legal defense provides you with the reason why you're not responsible for paying back the debt or returning property.
Appear in court. Go to the local court at the date, time and location indicated on the summons. The court expects you there -- in person -- to prove your case.
Provide a legal defense. After you arrive at the hearing, explain the facts of your case. You may have to refute the plaintiff's argument.