Once defendants are served with the summons and complaint, they are commanded by the terms of the summons to enter an appearance with the court. The summons will call for some response within thirty days. Under the North Carolina Civil Practice Act, a defendant may unilaterally request an additional thirty days to file an answer or other responsive pleading. Defense attorneys always take advantage of this additional time. Therefore, you should expect sixty days to pass after service of your summons and complaint before you receive any responsive court filings from the defense.
The defendant’s answer will be a direct response to the individually numbered paragraphs and allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint. The answer will also include any other affirmative defenses that might bar or defeat the plaintiff’s claims. Careful legal consideration should be given to every word of the defendant’s answer and other responsive filings. In some cases, the defendant will file a motion or other responsive pleading that does not include an answer. These responses typically contest the court’s jurisdiction over that party or the propriety of the plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff’s summons, or plaintiff’s effort to deliver the summons and complaint to a proper party in a timely fashion. Careful attention must be given to all responsive pleadings to avoid legal forfeiture of valid claims.
If the defendant is properly served and fails to file an answer, this results in default. Here, all of the allegations contained in the plaintiff’s complaint are deemed admitted. If the defendant was properly served and the court indeed has jurisdiction over the party and the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claims, the plaintiff in default is allowed to pursue a default judgment. Here, the plaintiff is still required to prove damages before the court will award a dollar judgment.