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Basics on Civil Actions
Being involved in a civil action can be very stressful, regardless of which side you are on. To limit the stress, it is helpful to understand the court process and the stages of a case. We recommend that you talk with a lawyer to get legal advice about your specific situation.
A civil action is a lawsuit
A civil action is a lawsuit that involves money, injury or damages, return of property, civil rights, or other non-criminal matters.
A civil action is started by service (delivery) of a Summons and Complaint
In Minnesota, a civil action starts with service of the Summons and Complaint on a party. In legal terms, service means delivery. Depending on the situation, service can be done in person, by mail, or by publication. The court rules require that the server is someone who is not a party to the case.
Also in Minnesota, a lawsuit can be started without filing the Summons and Complaint in court, so the first sets of documents might not include a court file number. If you contact the court in the early stages of a case, they may not find a record of the case in their system. To move the lawsuit forward in court, the case must be filed in court within one year of service of the Summons and Complaint.
Defendant must serve a written Answer within 20 days or risk losing the case by default
Once the Summons and Complaint have been served, the defendant usually only has 20 days to respond by serving a written Answer on the plaintiff. A phone call to the plaintiff or plaintiff's attorney does not meet the requirements for an Answer under the rules. See Rule 5.02 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendant can call the plaintiff's attorney to ask for more time to serve an Answer, but the plaintiff might not agree to more time.
There are important deadlines in civil actions
You should carefully read all notices and documents you get in your case, and get legal advice if you are not sure what you should do in your situation. Some important deadlines include:
- Answer is due no later than 20 days after service of the Summons and Complaint: The defendant has 20 days after service of the Summons and Complaint to respond by serving a written Answer on the plaintiff. If that deadline is missed, plaintiff may be able to get a judgment by default against the defendant.
- File with the court within one year after service of the Summons and Complaint: Civil actions (except family cases) must be filed with the court within one year of service of the Summons and Complaint. See Rule 5.04 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure. Unless the parties sign a written agreement to extend the filing deadline, failure to file within the year will result in the case being dismissed with prejudice, which means that it can never be filed in District Court.
- Other deadlines apply to discovery requests and pre-trial motions, and the court may issue orders with specific deadlines.
Talk with a lawyer to get advice on legal rights and defenses in a civil action
You are not required to have a lawyer, but we strongly recommend that you at least talk with a lawyer to get advice about your legal rights, options, and the decisions that would be in your best interest. A lawyer for the other party is not allowed to give you legal advice.
A corporation or LLC must be represented by an attorney in District Court, which includes having an attorney sign court papers on behalf of the client corporation or LLC. Except: For cases limited to the Hennepin or Ramsey County Housing Court, Rule 603 of the MN General Rules of Practice may allow a principal (or agent) of the corporation or LLC to sign court papers or appear in court on behalf of the business entity. You should get legal advice if you have questions about this issue in your case.
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