Civil Complaint, Summons and Service

Civil Complaint, Summons and Service

A complaint is the document that starts a civil case, where the plaintiff explains in short, clear language what occurred and what they are requesting from the court. A summons is a form directing a defendant to appear in court to answer a civil complaint and providing a deadline to do so. A summons for possession is specific for eviction complaints and provides 10 business days to answer. A generic summons is used for everything else and provides 20 calendar days to answer. The Clerk of Court/may help prepare the summons once the complaint is filed. The plaintiff is responsible for proper service of the complaint and summons. The complaint and summons must be personally served on the defendant by a Deputy Sheriff, licensed process server or a disinterested third party.

Civil Answer 

The summons will state the time to respond after being served with a complaint and summons. In cases seeking eviction it is 10 business days. In all other cases it is 20 calendar days. Failure to respond within that time means that the plaintiff may receive exactly what they requested in the complaint without your having the chance to contest it. An answer is the response to the complaint. It explains which allegations are admitted and which are denied. An answer may also contain a counterclaim (a request from the defendant seeking money from the plaintiff). The original answer must be filed with the Court, and a copy sent to the Plaintiff. 


A counterclaim is a request from the defendant against the plaintiff for damages involving the same transaction or occurrence as the complaint. The counterclaim does not need to be served by the Sheriff or process server but can be mailed to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must file a reply to the counterclaim, or the defendant would receive exactly what they requested without the plaintiff having a chance to contest it. 

Reply to Counterclaim 

This is an "answer" to the counterclaim, where the plaintiff explains which allegations in the counterclaim are admitted and which are denied. The plaintiff has 20 calendar days from the date the counterclaim is filed to submit a reply to the court. The original should be filed with the court and a copy mailed to the defendant. After an answer is filed, the Court will generally set hearings (mediation and hearing on possession for evictions, pre-trial conference for general cases). Mediation is an opportunity for the parties to discuss a resolution with a trained facilitator (but without the judge present). A hearing on possession is where the judge decides if an eviction request will be granted. A pre-trial conference is hearing where the parties to meet with the judge to discuss scheduling of mediation and trial dates as well as to facilitate the exchange of discovery (pictures and documents that might be presented at a trial).