Filing an Answer in a Civil Case: Information from a Houston Business Litigation Attorney
So, you have just been served with a lawsuit in a Texas civil case. What do you do now? The proper response to a lawsuit can make the difference between winning and losing the case. Responding to a civil lawsuit too late will result in a default judgment being entered against you.
Whether responding to a breach of contract, fraud, business lawsuit or any civil litigation, you need to do so promptly and in the proper manner.
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How Much Time Do I Have to Respond to a Civil Lawsuit?
Responding to a lawsuit by filing an answer must be done withing certain time frames depending upon whether the case is filed in Texas State District Court or federal court. If the lawsuit was filed in state district or county court, you will notice that the citation (papers attached to the lawsuit ordering you to respond) says that the answer including any defenses must be filed “within 21 days of the Monday next following the date of service.” That means you have until three weeks from the Monday after you were served. For instance, if you were served with the lawsuit on Wednesday the 5th, your answer must be filed three weeks from the following Monday which would be the 31st or the 1st of the next month. This is a general rule.
If you have been served with a civil lawsuit which was filed in federal court, you must file your answer to the complaint (it is called a complaint in federal court) within 21 days after you have been served. So, if served on the 5th, you would need to file an answer on the 26th. This is also a general rule for federal court. The deadline can be longer or shorter depending upon a variety of factors.
How can I Tell if the Lawsuit Has Been Filed in Federal or State Court?
If the lawsuit has been filed in Texas District Court in Harris County, the front page of the summons or complaint will have the case number at the top, the parties names on the left and on the right side it will say, “In the District Court of Harris County, Texas, ___ Judicial District.” A county court case will say “In County Civil Court at Law No. ___, Harris County Texas.”
A civil case filed in federal court in Houston will have the parties names on the left, the case number on the right and at the top it will say, “IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION.”
When Would I Need to Respond or Answer a Civil Lawsuit Immediately?
There are often situations where a defendant in a civil lawsuit case must take immediate action to file and answer and respond to the suit. In cases where a plaintiff is seeking a Temporary Restraining Order or Temporary Injunction, you should act immediately in obtaining an attorney. A Temporary Restraining Order or TRO is an order that is obtained from a judge immediately upon the filing a lawsuit – usually to order an activity to stop. These are often sought in Non-Compete lawsuit cases where a former employer asks a court to immediately order a former employee to cease competing. Traditionally, a plaintiff could go to a judge and get a TRO without the defendant even knowing about it. However, lately the judges in Harris County have required plaintiffs seeking a TRO to make contact with the defendant and give them a chance to rush to court to tell your side of the story. Therefore, if you are served with a civil lawsuit and you see that the plaintiff is seeking a TRO or injunction, you should call an attorney immediately. Furthermore, if a lawyer faxes a petition or calls and leaves a message that they are seeking a TRO or Temporary Restraining Order, DO NOT IGNORE THIS. Call an attorney immediately.
What is Contained in an Answer Responding to a Lawsuit?
Again, this depends upon whether the lawsuit was filed in federal or state court. In state court, and an answer can be a simple as filing papers stating “Defendant enters a General Denial.” In many cases, this requires the plaintiff to prove every allegation contained in the petition. However, it is not recommended that people file their own answer to a lawsuit and filed a General Denial because, depending upon the type of lawsuit, certain defenses must be specifically put in the answer or the case will be lost.
In federal court, the defendant’s answer to the complaint must track every allegation and specifically deny or admit each one.
If you have any other questions regarding the process of responding to a civil lawsuit in Houston, Harris County or any other place in Texas, contact Michael P. Fleming through our online form or call him at (713) 221-6800.
Michael P. Fleming has been handling civil lawsuits for over 28 years. He has defended numerous cases in state District and County courts as well as Federal Trial Courts. Call him today for a free consultation.