The Defendant’s Response: The Answer

Once the defendant receives a copy of the summons and complaint, the defendant is supposed to prepare, and then serve and file a document called an Answer. The answer is a rather simple document in which the defendant simply addresses each allegation in the complaint. The idea is for the defendant to simply indicate agreement or disagreement with each allegation. If the defendant agrees with an allegation, the defendant admits it. If a defendant disagrees with an allegation, the defendant denies it. However, as is often the case with the law, answering a complaint often isn’t that simple. For example, the defendant may agree with only part of an allegation. Or, the defendant might not have enough information to allow for simple agreement or disagreement. There are generally accepted methods for dealing with situations such as these.

An answer may also include few more things, such as: (1) affirmative defenses; (2) counterclaims; and (3) third-party claims.

There is a deadline to serve an answer. However, the defendant usually asks for extra time to prepare an answer, and the plaintiff usually agrees to such a request.

The defendant serves the answer on the plaintiff by simply mailing it, although a defendant can deliver it by other means. How come no elaborate set of rules concerning service of the answer on the plaintiff as was the case with service of the complaint on the defendant? The difference can be accounted for fact that, by filing the summons and complaint with the court, the plaintiff consented to the jurisdiction of the court. As a result, service can be a lot more informal.

While preparing the answer, the defendant also prepares proof of service of the answer on the plaintiff. Depending on the court and whether an attorney is involved, this proof of service might be called a certification, affirmation or affidavit of service. It is a simple document, usually only one page long, and following a fairly standard format. Depending on who is signing it, it might only be signed, or signed and notarized.

Once proof of service is prepared, the defendant attaches the proof of service to the end of an original copy of the answer, and then mails this package to the clerk of the court for filing, usually with a short cover letter. There is usually no fee involved.

Once the answer has been served and filed, it is said that “issue has been joined,” allowing the parties to go to the next stage of litigation, discovery..

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