Summary Of Instructions For Filing Answer



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What are a Summons and Complaint?

When any lawsuit is started, the person starting it must prepare a statement, telling the judge what the problem is and what he or she wants.
That statement is called the Complaint, and the person starting the lawsuit is called the plaintiff.
If the lawsuit is against you, you are the defendant.
A copy of the Complaint must be delivered to you so that you will know about the lawsuit.
You will also receive a Summons, which tells you that you have a right to disagree with the Complaint in writing.
It also tells you the amount of time you have to answer the Complaint, and where to deliver your Answer.
If you do not tell the court in writing that you disagree with the statements in the Complaint, the judge will assume that you agree with it and will usually give the plaintiff what he or she asks for.

In other words, the plaintiff wins by default, since you have not answered.

If a Default Judgment is entered in the court records against you, you will not necessarily be notified if you have not answered.

Once a judgment is entered against you, the plaintiff may be able to use that judgment to take money from your bank account or paycheck, or to take some of your property to pay the judgment.
Therefore, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you file a written response within the time limit given by your Summons (usually twenty days).

Read your Summons carefully for the deadline.

You may respond by delivering either a Notice of Appearance or an Answer to the person who signed the Summons and Complaint.
A Notice of Appearance merely states that you have appeared in the lawsuit. By delivering a Notice of Appearance, you will prevent the court from entering a default judgment against you without a court hearing.
A Notice of Appearance does not explain your position in the lawsuit.
This will be done when you file your Answer.

You should use this Notice of Appearance form.

You should try to do both the Notice of Appearance and the Answer at the same time.
If you can't, it is very important that you at least do the Notice of Appearance because if it is delivered and filed before the plaintiff goes to court, he or she must inform you of all further court hearings.
You should plan on delivering and filing your Answer before you go to court.

You can use the attached Answer form to fill in the necessary information.

To fill it out, follow the directions below.

What is an Answer?

The Answer is your written response to the statements in the Complaint.
You are called the defendant.
In your Answer, you do not have to tell the entire story or make legal arguments.
You do need to state whether you agree or disagree with each statement in the complaint.
Your Answer does need to be clear and readable, and it must say whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the statements in the Complaint, or whether you do not know if the statements in the Complaint are true or not.

Your answer also must be on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper (the size of this page).
By filing an Answer in time, you keep your right to argue about this matter in court, and to be notified of further proceedings.

Many people who have been served with lawsuits feel embarrassed or guilty about being in debt.
Even if you feel you are at fault, there is nothing wrong with filing an answer, and it does not mean that you are trying to avoid your legitimate debts.
You may also want to answer to preserve your right to be notified of further hearings.
You will need a total of one original and two copies of your Answer.
The original will be filed with the court, one copy will go to the plaintiff and you will keep a copy. See the section below called "What To Do With The Answer" for the details on how this is done.

Parts of the Answer
A. The Caption
Look at your Summons and Complaint. You will notice that they have a heading that gives information about the case. This heading is called the "caption." All court papers, including the Summons, the Complaint, and your Answer, are called "pleadings". All pleadings use this same kind of caption.

Sample Caption

The top line gives the name of the court, the state, and the county.
For instance: "District Court of Washington for Pierce County" or
"In the Superior Court of the State of Washington In and for the County of Pierce."
The left side lists the names of the Plaintiff and Defendant.
The right side lists the number that has been assigned to this case by the court clerk (so that they can keep it filed correctly) and the title of that particular pleading.
NOTE: If the papers you received do not have a file number, that may mean that the plaintiff decided to deliver (or serve) the papers to you before filing them with the court. The law allows this, and you are still bound by the time limit listed in your Summons.

However, if this is the case, you may not need to file your Answer with the court yet. You will still have to deliver a copy to the plaintiff's lawyer.

Read your Summons carefully. It should tell you what to do.
When you write or type your Answer , fill in the caption at the top of the page.
You may copy the necessary information from your Summons and Complaint.
Copy the names of the plaintiff and defendant just as they are on the Summons and Complaint, even if they spelled your name wrong or called you or your spouse "John Doe."
When you finish the heading for your Answer, it should look like the example above, but with the blanks properly filled in.

Sample Answer Admissions and Denials

B. Admissions/Denials
After you complete the caption, use the middle of the page to give your answers to the statements in the Complaint.
Usually, the paragraphs in the Complaint will be numbered.
You may list the numbers and say one of three things about each paragraph of the complaint:
You admit that it is a true statement (for instance, that you live in Pierce County or that you are not a member of the Armed Forces).
Admit the statement only if you agree with every part of it. Otherwise, deny the statement.
You deny that it is a true statement (for instance, that you owe a specific amount of money to the person named).
You write that you do not know whether the statement is true or not (for instance, the collection agency who is suing you is licensed and bonded. You might assume that they are, but you do not have any evidence; you have never seen their license).

Read your Complaint carefully and make sure you briefly answer all the statements in it.
If you totally disagree with everything in the Complaint, you can simply write a single sentence saying you deny each and every allegation in the Complaint.
However, you should not deny things that you know are true.

Sample Affirmative Defense

C. Defenses
You may also have technical or legal defenses to the Complaint, such as an argument that the statute of limitations has run.
Actions to collect debts, like all actions, have a time limit called the "statute of limitations," which usually begin once the creditor has a right to sue you (for example, once you miss a payment).

Once that time limit has passed, the person can no longer collect the money from you, and the action will be dismissed. You could lose some "Affirmative Defenses" if you file an Answer without stating them.


What to do with the Answer and Notice of Appearance
A. Delivery
Make at least two copies of your Answer and Notice of Appearance.
Deliver one copy of each of these documents to the lawyer for the plaintiff.
The lawyer's name and address should be printed on the lower right-hand side of the Summons and Complaint.
You must deliver a copy of your Answer or Notice of Appearance on or before the date stated in the Summons.
Because it is important for your Answer and Notice of Appearance to be delivered on time, it is best to deliver a copy of each document personally to the plaintiff's lawyer. The papers may be left with a secretary or receptionist.
If you are delivering the papers to the lawyer's office, ask the receptionist to stamp the original and copy of each document with a "copy received" stamp showing the date received.
Getting your original and copy of the Answer and Notice of Appearance stamped by the receptionist will prove that these documents were delivered by the deadline stated in the Summons.
If you decide to mail these documents to the plaintiff's lawyer, be sure to allow enough time for the mail to be delivered by the deadline (at least three days).
It is not enough for the Answer and Notice of Appearance to be postmarked on or before the deadline.
It must be received by the deadline stated in the Summons.
Also, if you mail the Answer, you should consider sending one Answer by regular mail and one by certified mail, return receipt requested.
Hand-delivery is best because you can have the lawyer's office stamp the original and your copy which shows that your Answer was delivered on time.
If you mail the Notice of Appearance and/or the Answer the court needs to know this was done.
You do this by completing a Certificate of Service and attaching it to the original of the document that was mailed.

Sample Certificate Of Service

Be sure to make extra copies of the form before you use it.
Make sure you identify what kind of legal paper the Certificate of Service refers to (i.e. Answer, Notice of Appearance, etc.) and strike out the type of delivery that does not apply (i.e. if you mailed it, strike out the words "hand-delivered").

B. Filing
When the plaintiff pays the filing fee and files the Complaint with the court, the court assigns a case number.
That number will usually be stamped or typed on the upper right-hand side of the Summons and Complaint.
The court will not have any record of the case and will not be able to give you any information about the case until the case has been filed.
If there is a case number on your Summons and Complaint, then you should write in the number on your Answer and Notice of Appearance and file the original(s) with the Court Clerk.
File the original Answer and Notice of Appearance after you deliver a copy to the plaintiff's attorney and obtain proof of service (the "copy received" stamp), but before the deadline stated in the Summons.
At the time you file the original Answer and Notice of Appearance you should stamp your personal copies with the Clerk's stamp showing the date the originals were filed.
If the Summons and Complaint which you received do not have a case number on them, then the Clerk will not have a record of your case and you will not be able to file the original of your Answer and Notice of Appearance.
You must still follow the regular procedure for delivering a copy of your Answer to the plaintiff's lawyer, even if the case has not been filed.
However, if there is no case number, keep your original Answer and Notice of Appearance until you are notified that the case has been filed and has been assigned a case number.
When you receive the case number, follow the procedure for filing the original documents described above.

REMEMBER to make sure that you file your Answer within the time limit listed in your Summons (usually twenty days).
Do not take a chance with that time limit! Once you have timely filed your Answer and served the plaintiff's lawyer, you should be given notice of any hearings.


A late Answer may be better than no Answer at all.
If you are too late, and a judgment has been entered against you, you should contact a lawyer immediately.

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. The forms displayed on the instructions can be downloaded from the "source" website linked at the beginning of the instructions.









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