Bankruptcy Terms: Summons, Complaint and Default Judgment

by Richard Fonfrias, J.D. Chicago's Financial Rescue & Bankruptcy Lawyer Fonfrias Law Group, LLC

Summons: If someone files a lawsuit against you, the summons is the written document that requires you to appear and defend or respond to the lawsuit before a specific date.

Complaint: The complaint is the text of the lawsuit itself. It identifies the jurisdiction of the court, states the reasons the plaintiff believes you owe him money, and asks the court to issue a judgment in the plaintiff's favor.

Default Judgment: If you do not appear or respond to the lawsuit, then the court assumes that the plaintiff's claims in the complaint are true and enters a judgment against you. It's called a default judgment because you did not respond to the lawsuit within the allowed time.

How a Lawsuit Begins: The lawsuit starts when the plaintiff files the complaint at the courthouse. The County Sheriff then sends someone to your home to hand to you - or anyone over 13 years of age - the summons and a copy of the complaint. When you receive these papers, the court has jurisdiction over you.

Now is the time to contact a lawyer to help you understand these documents and to defend you against the lawsuit. Your attorney will respond to these documents on your behalf by filing an appearance with the court. The appearance acknowledges your presence for the lawsuit, identifies the attorney who is representing you, and tells the court clerk's office where to send future notices.

When your lawyer files your appearance, he must pay the appearance fee. If you do not have the money to pay the fee, then your lawyer or you should go to the court clerk's office and ask how you can get the fee waived.

If you or your lawyer does not file your appearance by the deadline, usually 30 days, then the court may enter a default judgment against you.