Responding to Summons and Complaints in Consumer Cases

What should I do? I was just served by a creditor with a District Court "Summons" and "Complaint"

First, you should answer the Complaint in writing. This is called filing an ANSWER.

How long do I have to do this?

It must be at the Courthouse and filed with the clerk within the 21 days after the day that you received it.

Do weekends and holidays count in the 21 days?

You have 21 days total NOT 21 business days. You have to count Weekends and holidays in the total number of days; however, if the last day is a Saturday or Sunday when the Court is closed, you have until the close of business on the following Monday to get the papers to the Court. If it is a legal holiday, you have until the end of next business day.

For example, if you were served on Wednesday, June 12, the last day to file an Answer would be Thursday, July 4. This is the 21st day if you start counting on the day after you received the papers. If the Courthouse is closed for the holiday on Thursday, your Answer would need to be date stamped by the end of the day on Friday, July 5. 

What happens if I don't file an Answer?

If you do not file an Answer, your creditor could get a "default" judgment for the whole amount that they have asked for in the Complaint plus attorney fees and costs.

But won't the Court just send me a letter telling me when I need to come to Court?

You probably will receive a letter from the Court or the attorney telling you about a hearing date. However, Do not wait until you get a notice from the Court of a hearing date.

If you have not filed an Answer the Notice of Hearing you receive will be for entry of the Default Judgment. The Judge will not allow you to present your side and, in most cases, the attorney for the creditor will not feel that he has to try to work out any agreement with you.

What happens after I file my Answer?

If you file a written Answer, the Court will treat the case as a contested matter. You will get Notice to Appear for a pretrial or settlement conference. This will give you a chance to meet with the attorney and the judge to tell your side of things and to try to work out an arrangement.

Can I file an Answer without an Attorney?

In many cases, you may be able to draft an Answer on your own. If you agree that you owe money to the creditor but disagree with amount or your reasons for not paying are simple and easy to explain, you can probably do this yourself. For example, you didn't pay because you were charged twice for the same item. Or, you have already paid and have a receipt to prove it. If the reasons get more complicated, you probably will need an attorney to help you.

If you have not paid because you believe that the creditor owes you money or you have a claim against him that you think would offset the amount he says you owe, you probably should consult an attorney for help.

Can I have a friend or relative do this for me?

The law says that you can do your own legal work and represent yourself in Court if necessary. However, only a licensed attorney can prepare legal documents or appear in Court for another person.

A non-attorney, friend or relative can help you write or type something that you have written. They can not prepare it for you or tell you what you should write. This is the "unauthorized practice of law" and is a criminal offense in the State of Michigan.

If I decide to write it myself, how do I start?

Be sure to put a "caption" on the top of the page with all of the information that is on the Summons you received, that is, the name and address of the Court, the names and addresses of the bank and their attorney, your name and address and the court file number.

Make sure that you clearly write ANSWER below that information.

The COMPLAINT you received will have numbered paragraphs; you need to read each one and say that you either admit that the information is correct or that you deny it. If you DENY it, you should write a brief statement about why you disagree.

After you have responded to each of their paragraphs, you should add numbered paragraphs of your own explaining any reasons that you do not believe that you owe the amount that they are claiming.

You will need to mail or take the original to the Courthouse to be filed with the District Court Civil Clerk. Make sure that you have at least two copies. Keep one copy for your records and mail a copy to the creditor or his attorney if he has one.

What if I do all this and the Judge decides against me?

If the creditor does obtain a judgment against you, you can try to work out Installment Payments or you can file a Motion with the Court asking the Judge to set installment payments for you.

See information under this topic regarding Motion for Installment Payment.

What if the case is NOT in DISTRICT COURT?

If you have been sued in Small Claims Court, see Frequently Asked Questions regarding Defense of Small Claims.

If you have been sued in Circuit Court, you should consult an attorney. Both the procedures and possible defenses in Circuit Court cases can be more complicated. In addition, because the plaintiff must be asking for at least $25,000 for the case to be in Circuit Court, a lot of money is at risk.

To locate free or low cost legal assistance:

  • Visit the home page and search for local assistance by entering your zip code in the box marked “Find a lawyer, organization or related service to help you with your problem.” or

  • Look under "attorneys" in the yellow pages to find your local legal aid office, or

  • Contact the Michigan State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 968- 0738. 

  • Persons age 60 or older, regardless of their income, may be able to receive free advice from the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors by calling (800) 347-5297.

This article appears courtesy of Legal Aid of Western Michigan.