You Got a Summons

Getting a summons, which is an official notice of a lawsuit against you, 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. A default judgment is a court decision in favor of the person or company that started the lawsuit (the plaintiff). This usually occurs where the person being sued (the defendant) fails to answer a summons or misses a court date. The default judgment may make it possible for the person or company suing you to garnish your wages, freeze your bank account, or take your property.

In consumer credit cases, a complaint must be served with the summons. The Consumer Credit Fairness Act requires the complaint to contain certain specific details about the debt, as well as a copy of the contract or charge-off statement relating to the debt. See CPLR section 3016 (j) to learn more.

After you are served with the summons, what you do next in court depends on the facts of your case. Things that can happen are settling the case, dismissing the case, answering the case, or filing to vacate (cancel) the default judgment if a default judgment has already been entered. It is helpful to first read How Court Cases Start and Basic Steps in a Court Case. Then read the sections below to choose what step is right for you.

The other side (the plaintiff) must also provide proof that you were served with the summons and complaint with the clerk of the court, and

  • provide you with additional notice of the lawsuit against you Notice of Lawsuit form UCS-CCR1 in English and in Spanish
  • in a stamped unsealed envelope addressed to you (the defendant) at the same address where the summons and complaint was served
  • with the court clerk’s address as the return address
  • which must be mailed to you by the clerk of the court.

No default judgment can be entered against you for failure to answer the summons and complaint if:
  • this rule to provide you with additional notice of the lawsuit is not complied with
  • the notice was returned to the court as undeliverable
  • less than 20 days have passed since the mailing of the additional notice


Settling the Case

Both sides may agree to settle the case at any time, including before the first court date, or at any court date. Even if you are looking to settle with the Plaintiff, make sure you file an answer before the time to answer the summons runs out. 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 possible options such as:

  • more time to pay back the money
  • agreeing to pay back less money
  • saving you time in court, and
  • avoiding having a judgment entered against you which shows up on a credit report

The person or company that started the lawsuit (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 agree with the facts they are claiming 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 Settlements to learn more.


Dismissing the Case

Another option is to ask the Court to dismiss the case by making a Motion to dismiss. There are many different reasons to file a Motion to Dismiss. For example, there is a time limit for starting a debt collection case. This is called a Statute of Limitations which is a period of time during which a person or company may start a debt collection case. In New York, as of April 7th 2022, the Consumer Credit Fairness Act established a 3-year time limit on many kinds of debts including all consumer credit transactions. If you are sued in certain other kinds of consumer debts, longer statutes of limitations may apply. See CPLR section 241-Ito learn more.

As of April 7th, 2022, any additional payments on the debt after the statute of limitations has expired will not extend the limitations period for most types of consumer debts.

A Motion to dismiss should only be filed if you have a good reason why the case should be dismissed. Read Motions to Dismiss to learn more.

If you make a Motion to Dismiss, it must be made within 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, and to deny some or all of the allegations made against you in the complaint. Even if you think you don’t owe any money to the plaintiff, you must still answer the Summons and explain this in the Answer. Read Answering a Case to learn more.


Vacating a Default Judgment

If you don’t answer the Summons, wait too long to answer, or you miss your 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 from your salary.

A 2% rate of interest applies to consumer judgments entered on or after April 30th 2022.To learn more about the interest rates applied to consumer judgments see CPLR 5004.

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

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