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You’ve Been Served! Now What?

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2016 | Firm News

There are many types of notifications of lawsuits that can occur in the state of Illinois at both the state and federal level. The most common way of notifying a defendant is through the personal service of a summons by the sheriff of the county in which the defendant resides.

When you are served with a summons (i.e. an order to appear in court), questions arise such as:

● Do I have to respond to the summons?
● Should I call a lawyer to file a response to the lawsuit?
● Should I get a lawyer right away or try to resolve this myself?

It is always best to obtain counsel to advise you on the proper procedure. In general, the procedure following a summons depends on whether it was issued by a state court or federal court.

State Court

On the face of the summons served by the state or circuit court, there is usually a return date that indicates the date, time and courtroom that you should appear. Your appearance in court is key to avoid being defaulted and having a judgment entered against you in your absence. Most State court summons require an appearance or some kind of response to the complaint, which can vary from answers to the complaint to motions of dismissal.

Federal Court

In federal court, the service of a summons is a bit more complex. The federal summons doesn’t give a specific date, but instead provides a timetable, which is usually 21 days from the day of service. The summons requires the defendant to appear in court and provide an answer or otherwise plead. In Illinois, everything Federal is filed on line or on the 20th floor of the Dirksen federal building. For Cook County state court filings go to the seventh floor of the Daley Center in the Loop or one of the branch courts.

As you can see, the rules regarding federal service and state service are very different. They require separate responses within distinct time periods. An attorney skilled in litigation will be able to advise you of the procedure in more detail.

Lastly, note that in Illinois state or federal court, if you are served individually, you can appear in court to represent yourself. This is referred to as a pro se appearance, which means you are submitting yourself to the jurisdiction of the court without the benefit of an attorney. Corporations, on the other hand, cannot appear pro se. So if, for example, the summons names both the company and an individual at the company, the individual can appear pro se, but the corporation must obtain a lawyer to represent them. The best advice is one that is comparable a medical procedure: if you need surgery, it is always best not to perform surgery on yourself.

If you are sued, get a lawyer who is experienced in litigation to obtain the advice that you need in order to properly respond to the lawsuit.