Civil Cases

Summons and Return Date

A civil action is a lawsuit brought to enforce, redress, or protect private rights. In general, it includes all types of cases other than criminal proceedings.

A “Summons” is a legal notice that a civil lawsuit has been filed against you. The Summons will inform you in what court the case was filed, who is suing you, and for how much money. The summons will also tell you that you have the right to file an answer to the Complaint which is attached to the Summons, and/or tell you the date on which the case will go in front of a judge for the first time, called the “return date.” The return date is not the trial date. A trial, if one occurs, will be set by the judge on the return date, or subsequently, for a date acceptable to all the parties.

Attached to the Summons is the “Complaint” or “Petition.” The Complaint or Petition tells you what the lawsuit is all about, why the plaintiff thinks you owe him, her, or it money, and the amount the plaintiff is seeking. The Complaint may also ask for other relief. 

To be effective, the delivery or “service” of Summons must be accomplished in a legally appropriate way, generally, either by a sheriff or private process server handing you the Summons or Complaint in person, or by leaving the paperwork with someone who is living in your household who is 13 years of age or older.          

If you receive a Summons and Complaint, you should contact an attorney promptly. The lawyer can answer questions regarding the lawsuit, and determine whether “service” was proper. Be aware that the consequence of ignoring a suit after you have been served is that a judgment can be entered against you by “default.” In other words, you lose the case. A default can be entered on the return date if you are not present. Do not ignore a summons.