What To Do After Receiving a Court Summons In US
People usually ignore summons or notices after they are served and most times, it leads to a warrant being issued for forfeiture of their property. So whenever you receive something of this nature, be obedient enough to honor it. No one wants to be on the wrong end of a summons.
So, what should you do when you receive a notice or a summons?
- WHAT A SUMMONS IS AND MAKING SENSE OF IT?
A court summons is an order of the court ordering the presence of the party to whom it is served to make an appearance before the court to answer to the claims made against him. A summons is the first court document in litigation, a court case, to be served by the sheriff. It is usually preceded by a letter of demand. The summons provides all the details of the suit from the court to the case number, the parties, as well as the date you are to appear before the court. Make sure you check the names of the parties so you can be sure the suit concerns you and it’s not a case of mistaken identity.
The summons will also set out what the case against you is. It goes ahead to inform you of what you’re expected to do as to what to file and where and to whom it shall be served. The ‘Particulars of Claim’ usually comes with the writ and it extensively states the claim a person is being sued for.
You need to file and serve the Plaintiff with a notice if you intend to defend the matter (called a ‘Notice of Intention to Defend’), within 10 court days (which is often the same as business days, 15 December to 16 January are not considered to be court days for this purpose) of the receipt of the Summons. You need to file and serve your answer to the Particulars of Claim within 20 court days after the Notice of Intention to Defend has been filed, if there is a Particulars of Claim annexed to the summons.
The summons will also have a space where you can consent to the judgment. And importantly, the summons will contain the details of the Plaintiff’s attorneys.
it is an offense to avoid being served with a summons. Thus, you should not run from the sheriff or have someone lie on your behalf with regards to your whereabouts. Rather accept the summons and then deal with it properly.
- IGNORING A SUMMONS
Ignoring the summons does not take the suit away. It in fact, puts you in a more threatened position. It is a dangerous mistake. If you ignore the summons, the sheriff might not come around again until a warrant of execution is brought around. Yes, judgment was delivered in your failure to honor the summons. You are hearing nothing, not because it has died a natural death by ‘the blind eye’, but probably because the attorneys submitted a request for default judgment, and they are waiting for the court to grant it.
Once they have the default judgment, they are in a position to enforce the judgment by attaching your assets, to be removed and sold in execution, calling you for a financial inquiry, et cetera.
All they need for obtaining judgment against you is to send the letter of demand and serve the summons. If you fail to respond within the prescribed 10 day period, the court will, subject to certain criteria, grant a judgment against you as you have defaulted by not responding!
So how should you inform them that you intend to defend the matter?
- AVOIDING JUDGMENT AND DEFENDING THE MATTER
The summons has a Notice of Intention to Defend incorporated in the document. You can, therefore, complete it, make 2 copies, take one the original court and have it stamped and filed (the clerk /registrar of the court should assist you), and take one to the Plaintiff’s attorneys or the address on the summons which is nearest the court. You have to do this within 10 days of being served with the summons.
If you missed the 10 days mark, do it in any case – it is likely still possible to avoid default judgment. You can even email or fax the Notice to the attorneys if you will only be able to deliver the notice a few days later. Notwithstanding, the original still has to be filed in court. You could also have a lawyer do all these on your behalf and save yourself the stress. Make sure you discuss the professional fees with the lawyer first.
If you know for sure that you do not have any defense to the claim, it will not help to defend it. Consult an attorney to ascertain whether you might have a defense and whether it is worth it to pursue it. Remember that whoever loses the case will have to pay the legal fees of the other side.
- FINDING OUT MORE AND UNDERSTANDING MORE
The sheriff could also clarify your confusion on any aspect that you do not understand as regards the summons. It is, in fact, his duty to explain the summons to you. Ask him what is required of you, and ask him to explain the process to you.
If the summons is for a debt that you know you owe and have no defense, you can simply contact the plaintiff’s attorney to discuss the matter. It would save you gigantic legal fees. Parties are usually encouraged to settle matters amicably.
You can also possibly avoid a judgment being taken against you, by being proactive in the matter.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT IGNORE A SUMMONS.