What should I do when I am personally served with a summons and complaint in a state court civil action?
Suppose I cannot hire an attorney within the 30 day time period, what can I do to protect my rights and not get defaulted?
Can I represent myself in court?
What are some common statutes of limitation and how do they apply to my claims?
Q. What should I do when I am personally served with a summons and complaint in a state court civil action?
A. You should seek legal counsel immediately. For superior court general civil actions, you have 30 days to respond to the complaint. For unlawful detainer actions (evictions), the defendant has 5 days to respond after personal service. You must respond to the court in writing; an oral response is essentially no response. If you fail to timely respond, the plaintiff can file a request for entry of default against you which will cut off your rights to contest the substance of the complaint. Plaintiff will thereafter file a default judgment against you. By failing to timely respond, you are essentially conceding that the person suing you is right.
Q. Suppose I cannot hire an attorney within the 30 day time period, what can I do to protect my rights and not get defaulted?
A. In most cases, you can prepare and file a simple Answer, which can be found at California Judicial Counsel Forms, or www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/. You would need to fill out the Answer and file it in court with the proper filing fee (which can be found at www.sdcourt.ca.gov/). You also need to mail a copy of your answer to the opposing lawyer (or party if there is no lawyer), together with a proof of service (which you can get form on the California Judicial Counsel Forms website), and file the original proof of service with the court.
Q. Can I represent myself in court?
A. An individual over the age of 18 can represent themselves in court. A business entity (such as corporation or limited liability company) must be represented by a lawyer in all court proceedings except small claims court.
Q. What are some common statutes of limitation and how do they apply to my claims?
A. A statute of limitation is a time period within which you must file a complaint in court, or your claims will be forever time barred. Some common statutes of limitation include, but are not limited to, 4 year statute of limitation for breach of a written contract, 2 year statute of limitation of breach of an oral contract, 3 year statute of limitation for fraud and a 2 year statute of limitation for many (but not all) personal injury actions. There are other applicable statutes of limitation for civil suits (and other limitation periods for administrative actions and actions against public entities). You should consult with us as to your particular situation. The key point is that if you have a claim, you must take timely action to perfect it, or you will lose it. On the defense side, you should always evaluate whether a claim against you is time barred.