The first legal documents in most lawsuits are the summons and complaint. The summons is a short document that informs a defendant that he or she is being sued, in which court and how much time there is to reply (the time to reply is set by law). The summons also lets a defendant know who is bringing the suit.
The complaint should contain a short statement of the reason the court has jurisdiction over the case and the reasons for the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. The complaint should also contain a demand for judgment for the relief the plaintiff is seeking. The plaintiff may seek alternative forms of relief, including monetary relief, injunctive relief or specific performance.
If the defendant does not reply to the complaint within the time allowed, judgment by default may be entered against him or her. A judgment by default is final, usually grants the plaintiff everything asked for and is entered without any testimony or argument from the defendant. If a defendant does reply, it is by serving an answer on the plaintiff’s attorney. The answer should contain the defenses to each claim asserted by the plaintiff and the defendant should admit or deny the allegations upon which the plaintiff relies. If the defendant is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of a statement in the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant should state that, and such a statement will have the effect of a denial.
Instead of filing an answer, a defendant may file a motion in which it raises all its defenses, asking the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. A motion to dismiss can raise the following defenses: lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, lack of jurisdiction over the person, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and failure to join a party.
If the defendant believes the plaintiff is liable to the defendant, he or she may serve what is known as a counterclaim on the plaintiff. A counterclaim is generally served along with the answer, and it sets forth the defendant’s claims against the plaintiff.