You Got a Summons

Getting a summons is upsetting. But you can’t ignore it. If you do nothing, the person or company suing you may be able to get a default judgment against you and garnish your wages, freeze your bank account, or take your property. What you do next in court depends on the facts of your case. It is helpful to read How Court Cases Start and Basic Steps in a Court Case before reading more here. Then read the sections below to choose what step is right for you.


Settling the Case

One option is to call the plaintiff to suggest a settlement if most of the facts in your case are not in dispute. You and the other side can agree to settle the case at any time, including before the first court date. For example, if you are sure you owe the amount of money asked for and that the plaintiff has the right to collect the money, a settlement can give you more time to pay back the money or agree that you pay back less money. Remember that while you are trying to settle the case, the time you were given in the summons to file an Answer is still running. If the case does not settle in time, make sure you file an Answer. The plaintiff may call you to talk about settlement. You don’t have to speak to the plaintiff if you don’t want to, whether you dispute the facts or not. You can choose one of the other options below. You will also have a chance to talk about settlement when you go to Court. Read about Settlements.


Dismissing the Case

Another option is to ask the Court to dismiss the case by making a Motion. There are many different reasons to make a Motion to Dismiss. For example, there is a 6 year time limit for starting a debt collection case. This is called the Statute of Limitations. The time starts running about 30 days after your last payment. So, if the last payment was in December 2007, and the plaintiff starts the case in January 2014, you can ask the Court to Dismiss the case because the Statute of Limitations has expired. Making another payment starts the Statute of Limitations running all over again. Only make a motion if you have a good reason why the case should be dismissed. Read more about Motions to Dismiss.

If you make a Motion to Dismiss, it has to be made before the time you were given in the Summons to Answer. Your time to file an Answer stops running while you wait for the Judge to decide if the case is dismissed. If the Judge does not dismiss the case, you have 10 days to file an Answer.


Answering the Case

If the case is not settled and you do not make a Motion to Dismiss the case, you must Answer the Summons as soon as possible. An Answer is your chance to tell the court your side of the story. Even if you think you don’t owe any money to the plaintiff, you must still answer the case and explain this in your Answer. Read Answering a Case to learn more.


Vacating a Default Judgment

If you don’t Answer the Summons or you wait too long to answer or you miss a court date, the plaintiff will ask the Court for a default judgment against you. The default judgment usually gives the plaintiff the right to collect the amount of money that was asked for in the complaint, plus interest and court costs. The judgment will appear on your credit report, and it can be there for up to twenty years if it is not paid. The judgment also gives the plaintiff the right to collect money from your bank account or your salary.

You can ask the court to vacate (cancel) the default judgment. Read Vacating a Default Judgment. Read Is There a Default Judgment Against You if you want to find out if the plaintiff has a judgment.

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