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Legal Answers: An Introduction

Corporate & Business Law

7 minute read

Today we’re gonna talk about answers to complaints. I’m going to try to go through what an answer is what goes in one and the procedures and mechanisms associated with an answer. First question, what is an answer? An answer is a response to a complaint. When a new party is served with a complaint which is the accusation of some kind of wrongdoing- in this case we;re talking about civil wrongdoing- a theft, misappropriation, a BOC, it is the other party's initial response to the complaint. Which we call an answer. In drafting the answer first thing is there anything that i have to put in the answer? The answer to that is yes. On the first page at the top you have to put the name of the court, the case number, the name of the parties, and the heading Answer. If you’re gonna also serve a counterclaim you also have to put that into the body. Here I have an example of a state-court complaint with the counterclaim you see. The 1st is the name of the plaintiff, answer, name of defendant, and the counterclaim in which is the defendant. In many lower court cases you do not have to go through and answer each allegation that is complained about. A complaint will say- paragraph 1 accuse you of this, 2, 3, go up to 40-60 even more. A lot of lower state courts you can do a general denial saying you deny everything in it. However in federal court and higher level of state court normally called superior courts you have to go through and deny each of those allegations or admit to them or state that you have insufficient information. Beware though, in federal court if you do not deny the allegation the rules say the court may treat that as admission to the allegation. Be very careful to go through each paragraph and admit/deny/state to what extent you deny or whether you do or do not have enough info to admit/deny. The next thing in a complaint is affirmative defenses. Those are specific defenses such as statute of limitations, statute of frauds- meaning the document has to be in writing- perhaps arguing that the other party is in breach, so therefore you’re relieved of the breach or the other person committed a fraud, or some kind of equitable defense such as unclean hands which means when the plaintiff engaged in whatever led up to the suit they acted poorly, they contributed to the problem, they are at fault. Those are affirmative defenses and they require the defendant to plead as though he were a plaintiff and set forth a little bit of the reasoning behind the AD what the AD is based upon. In the law we say they have to be actively pleaded, and if you don't plead them they are waived, so often you'll see at the end of an answer many ADs because people throw them in. maybe not sure if they’ll work or not but to ensure they have them so they are not waived. The next thing that can go in an answer is a counterplay or crossplay. Those are the defendant’s complaint against either plaintiff- so plaintiff sues defendant- the defendant countersues the plaintiff and that’s the counterplay. That’s just like a complaint or a crossclaim is the same thing, it’s a complaint but not against the plaintiff but a third party- another party you may claim is responsible or should be brought into the suit for some reason and you plead that just like a complaint. Finally at the bottom you have to do proof of service and it says that you have provided a copy of that answer to all parties. So if the plaintiff sued you you need to send them a copy of that answer and provide proof of service stating that you’ve sent them the answer. When you've finished writing your answer whether you have counterclaims/crossclaims/affirmative defenses included, you need to go ahead and file it w the court so the court knows ‘we’ve got the answer on file, you’ve filed it’ and you have to send it to the plaintiff and if ur cross suing someone else, a third party that wasn’t in the original complaint, then you have to hire a sheriff or a constable to go and serve that on him the same way you serve a complaint. Do I have a certain time in which to answer? Yes normally 20-30 days. Each court is a little bit different please look up court rules in your jurisdiction. If it’s a state court its state rules if federal court federal rules also it doesn’t hurt calling up the attorney that served the complaint and saying hey what does ur record say? When do you have records of when it was served and when the answer’s due?” and often attorneys will be cooperative and give extra time to answer as long as they know the answer is coming in they shouldn’t want to run into court and get your default. That’s the next question, what happens if you don't answer in time? If you don't answer and the other attorney isn't expecting the answer or has demanded you answer on time and you don't then they can go to court and get what is called a default and that puts you the defendant in default and you can no longer do anything in the case you can't answer or anything and you have to go to the court to have that default removed. And if you take too long in doing that then you move to the next state which is proof of damages and as time ticks on it becomes more difficult for the court to remove the default and once you have a default you have to go to the court and explain why you didn't answer on time. Just saying the dog ate your homework usually doesn’t work. It has to be a little more than that. Finally, advancement of technology. The federal courts, everything is done electronically. So you don't mail your answer to the court, or go drop it off, you have to get on what’s called the Pacer system and you scan your answer and electronically file it and many states have also moved to electronic systems but most states you can both do it by mail, in person, electronically but if you can do electronically that’s more convenient and a lot easier.

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