This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of the all of the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.
So it’s time to go to the Court of Common Pleas. Whether you tried other steps first or elected to start here, today we walk through how the parties to a lawsuit lay the groundwork for their claims and defenses.
Complaint, Answer, and Reply
Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant in a lawsuit describe their claims and defenses, respectively, in documents called “pleadings.” This is just legalese for a type of court filing that describes in broad strokes what the parties’ positions will be. If all goes smoothly, you can expect this process:
- Filing the Complaint – The Plaintiff starts by filing a Complaint. The Complaint needs to outline the basic facts of the dispute and what the Plaintiff wants to get.
- Serving the Complaint -The Plaintiff serves the Complaint on the Defendant. In general, this must be done by having someone from the Sheriff’s Office hand deliver a copy of the Complaint.
- Checking for a Default – The Defendant must respond to the Complaint within 20 days of having a copy delivered to him or her. If he or she does not, the Plaintiff can send a warning called a “Notice of Default.” If the Defendant still does not respond, 10 days after sending the Notice of Default the Plaintiff can request a Default Judgment.
- Answering the Complaint – The Defendant responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in the Complaint in a document called an Answer. So paragraph 1 of the Answer responds to paragraph 1 of the Complaint, and so on.
- Raising New Issues – The Answer may also contain two types of statements beyond the responses to the Complaint. The first is called “New Matter,” which are new facts the Defendant thinks are important but that the Plaintiff left out. New Matter can also contain certain types of legal defenses. The second type is “Counterclaims,” which are legal claims back against the Plaintiff. Counterclaims are claims that could have been raised by the Defendant in a Complaint. But instead of having two lawsuits going at the same time, both sides’ claims are handled at once.
- Responding to the New Issues – If the Defendant’s Answer has New Matter or Counterclaims, the Plaintiff files his or her own response to those new statements. This responsive document is called a Reply to differentiate it from the Defendant’s