Every case begins with the filing and service of a Summons and
Complaint. The Complaint will contain one or more "causes
of action" such as "Breach of Contract" or "Fraud".
Service Of Complaint
After the Summons and Complaint have been filed with the court,
they must be properly served on the defendant(s). If the defendant(s)
will accept service, he/she may sign an Acknowledgment of Service."
Otherwise the documents will have to be formally served.
Response To Complaint
The Defendant(s) have 30 days from the date of service of the
Summons and Complaint to serve on the Plaintiff(s) either an
Answer to the Complaint or a pleading challenging the sufficiency
of the the Complaint. Responses challenging the sufficiency
of the Complaint include a motion called a "Demurrer"
and a "Motion To Strike"
Hearing Of Challenges To Sufficiency
Of Complaint (If Applicable)
If the defendant(s) decide to file a demurrer or motion to strike,
these motions must be heard and ruled upon before the matter
may proceed. This can take up to 2 months. If such motion is
sustained and the court grants leave to amend the Complaint,
a new complaint must be drafted and served and the process starts
over. Sometimes a second demurrer or motion will be filed causing
Once the Complaint and Answer have been filed both parties commence
"discovery" procedures by which the evidence necessary
to prosecute both sides of the case. Depending on the nature
and complexity of the case, one or more of the following discovery
devices may be used by the parties:
- Interrogatories: Written questions which must be answered under oath.
- Request For Production Of
Documents: Demands for production of documents
by the parties involved.
- Requests For Admission: Requiring the parties to say which allegations they affirm
and which they deny.
- Deposition: The
parties may be required to appear in the opposing attorney's
office to answer questions under oath in front of a court
reporter. Depositions can also be taken from 3rd parties.
- Subpoena Documents From
Third Party: Documents may be subpoenad from 3rd
parties such as banks and employers.
Discovery Motions (If
If a party fails or refuses to comply with discovery requests,
it may be necessary for the party propounding the discovery
to make a motion in court to compel responses. If the court
grants the motion, further responses will be made. If those
responses are still inadequate, another motion may be made and
the court can sanction (fine) the resisting party. In extreme
cases the court can even terminate the action in favor of the
Throughout the case the court will set a series of Case Management
Conferences to be attended by attorneys for all parties. These
hearings are designed to determine whether the case is ready
for trial. When the court feels that a case is ready for trial,
it will set the date for trial and make orders concerning completion
of discovery and final preparation for trial.
Settlement negotiations may proceed throughout the trial. Often
the court will require the parties to try a mediation of the
issues or will set a "Mandatory Settlement Conference"
(MSC) before the trial date. Settlement negotiations general
become more intense as the trial date approaches.
The vast majority of cases settle before trial. However if the
parties cannot settle the case, the only way to resolve the
issues is by way of trial.