Friday, May 25, 2007

Steps in a lawsuit - from service to filing an Answer

I thought a series of posts about the steps in a lawsuit might be useful. This will be the first part of a series about the general procedure in civil lawsuits. Small claims have a wholly different procedure and I suggest you look at the small claims rules if you are looking for information on small claims cases. I am not going into all the nooks and crannies of civil procedure but just the broad generalities.

After filing the Complaint and Summons with the County Clerk, serving the defendant is the next step. In some counties the person serving the Complaint is a Sheriff's deputy and in others it is a bailiff.

By the way, Indiana's Trial Rules have eighteen rules solely about service. See Indiana Trial Rule 4 to 4.17.

If the defendant cannot be served personally, then there is service by certified mail and by publication. The case cannot go forward if the defendant cannot be served. Service is part of the constitutional right of due process.

The defendant then has a certain amount of time for responding to the Complaint depending on the type of service. The response is called an Answer. For personal service, the time is 20 days. Expect that to be extended by the defendant. Usually, the extension runs another 30 days. That is if the defendant gets an attorney or knows the Indiana Trial Rules.

If the defendant does nothing by the 20th day, the rules allow for a default judgment. Just as if it were a ball game, one wins if the other side does not show up.

I wrote the defendant must file an Answer. This is not precisely true. The defendant may file a Motion to Dismiss, or an Answer. If the defendant files a Motion to Dismiss, the judge must rule on the motion before the case can continue. If the judge denied the defendant's motion, then the defendant must file an Answer. If the judge grants the motion, the Plaintiff may have be out of a case or find a way to get back in.

What comes after the Defendant files an Answer? Not trial, but what we call discovery. That is for another post.