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Summons and Complaints – What Does it Mean?

June 16, 2017

Written by Jacob Sherlock

There are few more stressful situations than having a process server hand you a Summons and Complaint.  This signals the start of dreaded “L” word – litigation.  While the term litigation may bring to mind multimillion dollar lawsuits between large corporations, it can encompass matters from the largest corporate lawsuit to a boundary line dispute between two neighbors.  Whether you are involved in a traffic accident, a business dispute, or are served with divorce papers, it is important to know what to do next after you are served with a Summons and Complaint.

In most cases in Minnesota, it is the service of the Summons and Complaint that begins a legal action, not the filing of a Complaint with the Court.  As a result, if you are served with a Summons and Complaint and you do not find your name in the Minnesota Court Public Access system, it does not mean that you are in the clear.  In most cases, the Plaintiff has one year from the date you are served with the Summons and Complaint to actually file the case with the District Court.

The most important thing you can do after being served is to not ignore the Summons and Complaint.  The first reaction of many people after being confronted with bad news is to pretend the bad news doesn’t exist.  In the litigation context however, this is one of the worst things you can do.  When served with a Summons and Complaint you must act quickly to protect your rights.  You must serve your Answer to the Complaint upon the Plaintiff within 20 days after you are served with the Summons and Complaint.  If the Answer is not served in time (or at all), you run the risk of waiving your rights in the lawsuit, and of the Plaintiff obtaining a default judgment against you.  A default judgment is exactly as it sounds – the Plaintiff wins its case against you by default.  A default judgment can be overturned in certain circumstances, however it is an uphill battle that can be avoided by submitting the Answer in a timely fashion.

The second most important thing you can do after being served is to take immediate action.  If you intend to seek legal counsel to assist you in your matter (and whether it is with our firm or another attorney, it is highly recommended that you retain counsel), it is important that you do so as soon as possible after receiving the Summons and Complaint.  The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find someone who will be able to take your case on a short notice.

Depending on your circumstances, you may feel that you cannot afford an attorney and must go it alone, or you may feel that you can provide yourself with adequate representation and do not need an attorney.  Proceeding on your own in a lawsuit is called proceeding pro se.  Every defendant has a legal right to proceed pro se, but be advised that the law requires the court to hold a pro se defendant to the same level as a seasoned attorney.  While some pro se litigants are able to reach a favorable result in their case by representing themselves, most often it is a better idea to hire knowledgeable legal counsel to navigate the legal waters for you.

The third most important thing you can do after being served is to avoid posting anything on social media about your case.  You may be tempted to take to your social media platform of choice to vent, to seek advice, or for other reasons, but keep in mind, you must treat everything that is posted on social media as public information.  If you post on social media about your case, there is no guarantee that the other side won’t see it, and won’t try to find a way to use your post against you.  However, if you do post social media about your case, whether before service of the Summons and Complaint or after, it is important that you do not delete any posts or other information already in the ether.  If you do, the other side may attempt bring a destruction of evidence (or “spoliation” for the complex legal term) claim against you, which may result in sanctions, and may have an adverse impact on your case.

Ultimately, in the event you are served with a Summons and Complaint, it is important to keep a level head, and to address the matter promptly, rather than becoming the proverbial ostrich and burying your head in the sand.  Blethen, Gage & Krause has a wealth of experience in litigation defense matters, and we would be happy to discuss your situation with you to make sure your rights are protected.  Contact attorney Jake Sherlock, or any of our other attorneys specializing in litigation defense, at 507-345-1166.

Legal excellence. Personal commitment.

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