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How Do I Respond to a Civil Summons?

A defendant has 21 days to file a response after a plaintiff files a summons and complaint in court.
A jury summons demands the presence of a citizen in court for jury duty.
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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Images By: Anna, Daniel Oines
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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The manner in which one responds to a civil summons depends on the purpose of the summons and the information contained therein, as well as the jurisdiction from which it originates. In some cases, a civil summons will require an appearance at a designated time and place indicated within the summons, while in other cases a formal answer may be the required response. It is also possible that both an answer and an appearance are called for by the summons.

A civil summons is an order of the court. In some jurisdictions, an attorney may prepare and issue a summons, but he or she is doing so as an officer of the court. Examples of the use of a summons include notifying a party that a case has been initiated in the court, directing a party to a case to appear for a deposition, or requiring a citizen to report for jury duty.

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A written answer may be the appropriate response to a civil summons when the purpose of the summons is to notify the recipient that a civil case has been filed. When an answer is the appropriate response, the summons will indicate how long the recipient has to respond. In a divorce or small claims lawsuit, for example, the summons will be accompanied by the petition or complaint and will indicate how long the recipient has to file a written response with the court. Failure to respond within the given time period may cause a default judgment to be entered against the recipient.

When a civil summons is used to notify a party to a case that he or she has been ordered to appear for a deposition, the summons will include the date, time, and place for the deposition. Once the summons has been served on the party, he or she is legally required to appear for the deposition. Failure to appear can cause a bench warrant to be issued. If the recipient feels he or she should not be required to appear, a written response detailing the reasons must be filed with the court prior to the scheduled deposition date.

A jury summons is type of summons used to inform a citizen that he or she must report for jury duty. The summons will indicate whether the recipient must call in or appear on a specific date. If the recipient has a valid reason why he or she cannot appear, then he or she must follow the procedures indicated on the summons to notify the court. Ignoring a jury summons is considered contempt of court in some jurisdictions and can be punishable by a fine or even incarceration.

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