Responding To A Complaint If You've Been Sued

Learn what to do if you’ve been served with a summons and complaint, including how much time you have to respond and what options might be available to you. Remember that if you do nothing, the person suing you can ask the court for a money judgment against you!


Overview

If you have received a summons and complaint, that probably means you are being sued.

Being sued can be one of life’s most stressful experiences. Although it might be tempting to ignore a summons and complaint, ignoring a lawsuit does not make it go away. And it could result in the court awarding a money judgment against you by default. That can lead to your wages being garnished, your bank accounts attached, or your property being taken!

How you choose to respond to the summons and complaint depends on the facts of your case. Before you do anything, click visit Overview of a Civil Case to familiarize yourself with the civil court process.

Then take the following steps to decide how (and whether) you want to respond:
Step 1: Calculate your deadline to respond 
Step 2: Evaluate your options 
Step 3: Prepare a response 
Step 4: File your response with the court 
Step 5: Give plaintiff a copy of your response 
Step 6: Know what to expect next 

Each of these steps is discussed below.

FYI! If the complaint you received relates to an eviction, click to visit Responding to an Eviction Notice. If you received a small claims complaint, click to visit Responding to a Small Claims Complaint. If a judgment has already been awarded against you, click to visit Judgments for Money.


Step 1:
Calculate Your Deadline To Respond

However you decide to respond to the lawsuit, remember there are deadlines to take action. Typically, you have twenty calendar days from when you received the summons and complaint (not counting the day of service) to file a response with the court. But that time might be shorter in some cases. So read the summons and all papers you received carefully!

TIP! If you intend to talk to an attorney about your case, do it quickly so that you (or the attorney) can file your response on time. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help.

If you do not file a written response within the required time, the “plaintiff” (the party suing you) can ask the court for a default judgment against you for everything she asked for in her complaint. After the plaintiff gets a default judgment, she can try to garnish your wages, attach your bank account, or take your property.


Step 2:
Evaluate Your Options 

Once you have been served with a complaint, you have a number of options to choose from and a couple of decisions to make. You can:

  • Negotiate a resolution with the plaintiff

At any time during the case, you can talk to the plaintiff and try to resolve the dispute. Just keep an eye on your twenty days. Even if you are negotiating, your clock is still ticking. Click to visit Attempting to Resolve the Dispute Out of Court for tips on trying to settle.

  • File an answer

Filing an answer is probably the most common way of responding to a lawsuit. An answer is your opportunity to respond to the complaint’s factual allegations and legal claims. It also allows you to assert "affirmative defenses," facts or legal arguments you raise to defeat plaintiff’s claim. Filing an answer prevents the plaintiff from getting a default judgment against you. It signals to the court and the other side that you intend to defend the case.

  • File a motion to dismiss or for a more definite statement

There are a number of reasons why you might file a motion to dismiss, including: 

    • Lack of jurisdiction. In other words, the court does not have jurisdiction over you. Click to visit Deciding Where to File for more information about jurisdiction.
    • Insufficiency of service of process. That means plaintiff did not properly serve the summons and complaint on you.
    • Failure to state a claim. In other words, you are arguing that plaintiff failed to state a legal claim in the complaint, and there is no relief legally available to plaintiff based on her allegations.

When you file a motion to dismiss, the time for you to file an answer is postponed until the judge makes a decision on your motion. If the judge grants your motion, the case is dismissed and over. If the judge denies your motion, you have ten days to file an answer. (NRCP 12(a); JCRCP 12(a).)

Like a motion to dismiss, a motion for a more definite statement postpones your time to file an answer. You might file this type of motion if plaintiff’s complaint is so vague and ambiguous that you are unable to respond to it.

  • Sue the plaintiff

You have the option of suing the plaintiff on your own claims. This is called a “counterclaim.” Counterclaims fall into one of these two categories:

1. Compulsory counterclaims. If your claim arises out of the same transaction that underlies the plaintiff's claim, you have a “compulsory counterclaim.” If you do not file a counterclaim in plaintiff’s case, you will lose the right to file a separate lawsuit. (NRCP 13; JCRCP 13.)

2. Permissive Counterclaims. If your claim does not arise out of the same transaction that underlies the plaintiff's claim, you have a “permissive counterclaim.” You are not required to file it as a counterclaim in plaintiff’s case against you. You can assert it in a separate lawsuit.

Here is an example of compulsory vs. permissive counterclaims:

    • If you sued a contractor for defective work that he performed at your house, the contractor’s claim against you for unpaid money for the work would be a compulsory counterclaim.
    • If the contractor instead had a claim against you because you crashed your car into his, that would be a permissive counterclaim. The contractor could pursue it in the case you filed against him, but he could also file a separate lawsuit.
  • Do nothing

If you do nothing, the plaintiff can – and probably will! – ask the court for a default judgment.

You may have other options as well. The best way to evaluate your options is to speak to a lawyer. An attorney might be able to identify defenses that apply to you or even help you settle your case out of court. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help.


Step 3:
Prepare Your Response

If you decided to file an answer or motion with the court, the Self-Help Center might have a form to help you.

TIP! You'll need to use the form for the correct court.  Look at the summons and complaint you received. On the first page of the summons or complaint, there's a "caption" (heading).  That caption should indicate which court the case was filed in (district or justice).

The forms below are available for free at the Self-Help Center, or you can download them on your computer by clicking one of the formats underneath the form’s title below:

  • If you are being sued over a consumer debt or a loan (a credit card or medical debt, for example) and you have decided to file an answer, use this form:

DISTRICT COURT ANSWER (CONSUMER DEBT OR LOAN) 
Pdf Fillable | Instructions 

JUSTICE COURT ANSWER (CONSUMER DEBT OR LOAN) 
Pdf Fillable | Pdf Nonfillable | Instructions 

  • If you are being sued because you had an auto repossessed and sold and you have decided to file an answer, use this form:

DISTRICT COURT ANSWER (AUTO DEFICIENCY) 
Pdf Nonfillable | Instructions 

JUSTICE COURT ANSWER (AUTO DEFICIENCY) 
Pdf Nonfillable | Instructions 

  • If you are being sued over a payday loan or title loan and you have decided to file an answer, use this form:

DISTRICT COURT ANSWER (PAYDAY LOAN) 
Pdf Nonfillable | Instructions 

JUSTICE COURT ANSWER (PAYDAY LOAN) 
Pdf Fillable | Pdf Nonfillable | Instructions 

  • If you have decided to file an answer in a civil case other than those mentioned above (consumer debt case, payday or title loan case, or auto deficiency case), use this form:

DISTRICT COURT ANSWER (GENERIC) 
Pdf Fillable | Instructions 

JUSTICE COURT ANSWER (GENERIC) 
Pdf Fillable | Pdf Nonfillable | Instructions 

  • If you have decided to file a motion in response to the complaint you received (a motion to dismiss or a motion for a more definite statement, for example), use this form:

DISTRICT COURT MOTION (GENERIC) 
Pdf Nonfillable 

JUSTICE COURT MOTION (GENERIC) 
Pdf Fillable | Pdf Nonfillable 

For information on how to fill out legal forms, click to visit Basics of Court Forms and Filing.


Step 4:
File Your Response With The Court

  • If you are filing your answer or motion in the district court, you have the option of filing electronically. Click to visit the District Court Electronic Filing page for more information. You can also file in person with the court clerk. If you go to the court clerk to file, you will need:

 Your original answer or motion and at least two copies, and

 The correct filing fee.

  • If you are filing in any of the Clark County justice courts (other than the Las Vegas Justice Court), when you go to the court clerk to file your answer or motion, you will need:

 Your original answer or motion and at least two copies; and

 The correct filing fee.

  • If you are filing in the Las Vegas Justice Court, you must have a working e-mail address because the court electronically files all documents. For more information about electronic filing, click to visit the Las Vegas Justice Court website.  When you go to the court clerk to file your complaint (or if you are filing on-line), you will need:

 The original complaint; and

 The correct filing fee.

For court location and contact information, click to visit Find My Court, District Court, or Justice Courts.

You can pay the filing fee by cash, Visa, Mastercard, ATM or debit card, money order, or cashier's check. Current filing fees are:

  • In district court, the fee for defendant’s first filing is typically $223.00, but that might vary depending on the type of case. To verify your filing fee, click to visit Filing Fees and Waivers.
  • In justice court, the fee for defendant’s first filing is typically $71. To verify your filing fee, click to visit Filing Fees and Waivers.

If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you can file an Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (sometimes called a "fee waiver application"), which is available for free at the Self-Help Center. You can also download the form on your computer by clicking one of the formats underneath the form's title below:

DISTRICT COURT APPLICATION TO WAIVE FILING FEES 
Pdf Fillable | Pdf Nonfillable 

JUSTICE COURT APPLICATION TO WAIVE FILING FEE (OTHER THAN LAS VEGAS) 
Pdf Fillable | Pdf Nonfillable 

APPLICATION TO WAIVE FILING FEE (LAS VEGAS ONLY) 
LV Pdf Fillable  

For more information on filing documents with the district court or justice court, click to visit Basics of Court Forms and Filing.


Step 5:
Give Plaintiff A Copy Of Your Response

You must generally give the other side a copy of any document you file with the court. If the other side has an attorney, you must give the documents to the attorney instead of the other party.

Giving documents to the other side (or their attorney) is called “serving” or “service.” After the initial complaint, all other documents filed with the court will probably be served by putting a copy in the mail, delivering a copy by hand delivery, or some other method allowed by the court’s rules. (NRCP 5; JCRCP 5.)

TIP! Because the other side (and possibly the court) will be sending you documents in the mail, make sure they have your current address. If you move, file a Notice of Change of Address form with the court and mail a copy to the other side. To get a Notice of Change of Address form, click to visit District Court Forms or Justice Court Forms.

If you are using a Self-Help Center form, the last page of the form is probably a “Certificate of Service.” This is your certification that a copy of the document has been (or will be) mailed or delivered to the other side. It is also the proof you file with the court to verify that service was made. Read the Certificate of Service and deliver a copy to the other side by whatever method is described.

TIP! If you filed a motion, the court clerk is going to give you a hearing date. Make sure the copy of the motion you serve to the other side has the date and time of the hearing on it. Otherwise, they won't know when the hearing is scheduled.


Step 6:
Know What To Expect Next

What happens next will depend on what you filed. If you filed an answer, the case will move forward. To see how a civil case moves through the district court or justice court, click on these flowcharts:
Flowchart - Civil Case in District Court 
Flowchart - Civil Case in Justice Court 

If you filed an answer and a counterclaim, the Plaintiff will likely file a response to your counterclaim. And the case will move forward from there.

If you filed a motion, a hearing will be scheduled for the court to make a decision. After your motion is resolved (and assuming the case is not dismissed), the case will move forward from there.

For more information, click to visit Lawsuits for Money and explore the different steps in a civil case.