Litigation: Significance of the Complaint and Serving the Summons and Complaint
Significance of the Complaint
The Complaint is a crucially important document. As the initial pleading of the civil action, the Complaint necessarily has a great impact on every subsequent stage of the litigation. It will affect what questions are asked of the opposing party, what documentary evidence is sought, and which legal theories are pursued. Also, if the Plaintiff pleads the existence of certain facts, and those facts are not denied by the Defendant, they are treated as true for purposes of the litigation. This is referred to by attorneys as a judicial admission, meaning that the fact is conclusively established and can no longer be contested within the lawsuit. If, later in the lawsuit, it becomes necessary or beneficial to argue facts which are different from those pled in the Complaint, the Plaintiff may be prohibited from doing so. Therefore, the Complaint is a task that is undertaken with great care and forethought. The Plaintiff must strike a balance between pleading sufficient facts and leaving the specifics to be determined through the evidence-gathering process. This can be difficult task for a layperson without legal training or experience. It is often advisable to seek the services of an attorney when considering filing suit, as a slight error or misstep in the pleading of the Complaint can have very serious, detrimental effects upon the outcome of the case.
Serving the Summons and Complaint
After the Complaint is filed with the Court, there is still one step before the lawsuit truly begins. This step is referred to as Service of Process upon the Defendant. Basically, the Defendant needs to actually receive legal process to ensure that his or her rights to due process and trial by jury are protected. Service refers to actual delivery of the required documents to the Defendants. Process refers to the documents themselves, which include a copy of the Complaint as well as a judicial Summons. A Summons is a legal notice issued by the Clerk of Court. It is typically a yellow piece of paper which, like the Complaint, contains the title of the civil action, the name of the Court, the County and State in which the action is pending, and the date of its issuance by the Clerk. It directs the Defendant appear within Thirty (30) days of the receipt of Process and respond to the allegations contained in the Complaint. If the Defendant fails to do so, the Plaintiff may then simply petition the Court for the relief sought. If the Court finds that the Defendant was served with process and did not responded, then it will grant the Plaintiff the judgment asked for in the Complaint.
Next in our Litigation series: Litigation: Manner of Service of Process