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What is an Answer to Counterclaim?

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  • Written By: Terry Masters
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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An answer to counterclaim is the plaintiff’s response to the defendant’s claim of damages suffered as a result of the circumstances raised in the plaintiff’s original complaint against him in a civil action. This written back and forth interaction between the plaintiff and the defendant comprises the case pleadings that are part of the official court record. In an answer, the plaintiff admits or denies the allegations in the counterclaim and presents any affirmative defense he may have.

To initiate a civil lawsuit, an aggrieved party must file a complaint with the court. The complaint outlines the circumstances surrounding the damage the plaintiff is claiming to have experienced, and states the legal basis for redress from the defendant. An answer to the complaint is required from the defendant, stating whether he admits or denies the allegations and outlines any defenses. He also has the option of submitting a counterclaim that is separate from his answer, though it may be a part of the same document submitted to the court.

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A defendant’s counterclaim is his claim of damages suffered as a result of the plaintiff’s actions with regard to the same or closely related set of circumstances at issue in the plaintiff’s complaint and the legal basis for redress. For example, a landlord might sue a tenant for back rent, but the tenant may counterclaim for property damage as a result of flooding in the apartment. The counterclaim is analogous to the defendant’s complaint against the plaintiff and requires the plaintiff to admit or deny the allegations in an answer to counterclaim.

The last pleading in the initial volley between plaintiff and defendant is the plaintiff’s answer to counterclaim. In the answer, the plaintiff must admit or deny the defendant’s claims and state any affirmative defenses. This series of documents allows both parties and the court to fully vet the matters at issue in the case, research the legal doctrines that will apply, and prepare for trial. The pleadings form the basis for requests for discovery and the submission of motions in preparation for trial.

Courts require pleadings to adhere to specific formats, but sometimes supply templates in cases where the matter at issue is person-to-person or consumer-based and the parties are likely to represent themselves, or there is the assumption of a significant disadvantage to one of the parties, as in landlord-tenant litigation. There is often latitude granted by the court in the matter of form but little in the matter procedure. An answer to counterclaim must be filed with the court within a proscribed timeframe and served on the defendant in accordance with the rules of the court. If either of these rules is violated, a plaintiff might lose the counterclaim by default or be precluded from asserting valid defenses.

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