The defendant gets served with a Summons and Complaint. The Complaint is a piece of paper that says the defendant did something wrong and owes some money. The Summons is a piece of paper that says the defendant has 30 days to respond to the Complaint by filing an Answer. If the defendant does not file an Answer then the Court will issue a default judgment.
The law requires that the Summons and the Complaint be served personally on the defendant. That is to say that the Summons and Complaint must be handed directly to the defendant. It is generally insufficient to mail the Summons and Complaint, tack it to the defendant's door, or any serve the paperwork in any manner other than live and in person.
Personal service is important because the process that is kicked off by service is one that can result in a judgment against the defendant and collection by force. Our system of jurisprudence provides a great deal of due process but at the end of a lawsuit, if you don't pay your bills or debts, you can be faced with collection at the point of a gun.
Collection action can involve levy. Levy is a process of removing a defendant's property from their home or generally from their possession and selling it on the courthouse steps at auction. Levy can be extremely stressful. A judgment debtor that sees his property marching out the door of his home feels violated. The judgment debtor may become desperate. In light of the emotion likely to be associated with a levy the law provides that a levy is to be conducted under the supervision of a sheriff's deputy. An armed sheriff's deputy. Thus, collection at the point of a gun. The point here is that being served with a Summons and Complaint is very serious stuff that can result in dire consequences if it is not dealt with appropriately and timely.
An Answer is just a piece of paper filed by the defendant that says the defendant did not do anything wrong and does not owe any money. Better said, the typical Answer denies the allegations contained in the Complaint and sometimes raises defenses to the Complaint. The Answer must be filed with the Clerk of the Court in which the Complaint was filed. Typically the Answer must be filed within 30 days of service. Failure to file an Answer will result in default.
Default is what happens if the defendant does not timely file an Answer. A default judgment basically is a judgment issued by the Court saying the time has come and gone for the defendant to file an Answer to the Complaint The Court takes all allegations in the Complaint as true and typically gives the plaintiff a judgment for all the money alleged to be owed. Effectively the plaintiff wins without a fight.
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