How to Answer a Summons in Texas
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An answer must be filed to a lawsuit or a default judgment will be signed. The purpose of the answer is to enter an appearance, deny the allegations against you and identify your defenses. To determine if you have been properly served please read our article on Services of Process. Even if you have not been properly served, it is advisable to file an answer anyway if you find out about a lawsuit against you.
The deadline to file your answer depends on what type of court you have been sued in. The answer date is usually always a Monday. If you were sued in Justice Court or Small Claims Court, you count off 14 days from the service date, then you go to the next Monday and that is your answer date. If you were sued in County Court or District Court, then you count off 20 days from service and go to the next Monday on the calendar. The answer needs to be filed by 10:00am on that day. (If Monday is a legal holiday, then the answer date is Tuesday or the next business day that is not a legal holiday).
Your written answer must be filed with the court and a copy must be sent to the opposing side. Many consumers do not send a copy to the opposing attorney, thus the attorney will file a motion for default judgment and this can cause Court confusion. We have had cases where the Court granted a default judgment by mistake even though an answer was on file.
The standard answer is a “general denial,” but this is not always appropriate depending on the type of lawsuit. A general denial is a statement that the defendant “generally denies all the allegations in the plaintiff’s petition.”
Some answers need to be sworn to under oath. You should consult with an attorney to determine if your answer needs to be sworn because if you simply file a general denial when you should have filed a “verified denial,” you could end up losing your case because of it.
If you believe that you have been sued in the wrong venue, you must file a motion to transfer venue to the proper one before filing your answer or along with your answer in the same document. If you file an answer without seeking to transfer venue, then you have waived this option.
You should also list your defenses in your answer. For instance, if you have been sued for debt in Texas, a good defense may be to claim that the creditor has not filed the lawsuit within the four year statute of limitations for suing for debts. You would want to list “statute of limitations” as one of your affirmative defenses. Please see my article on the Statute of Limitations on Debt in Texas.
Common traps for consumers are the imbedded “request for admissions” that are often in the petition or attached to it. You should carefully check for a request for admissions. If you do not properly respond to these requests within the applicable time, then you have automatically admitted all of the requests. A general denial does not operate to deny the request for admissions and the creditor will likely file a Motion for Summary Judgment if you fail to properly respond to the admissions.
What Are the Petition and Answer?
Lawsuits typically progress in a back-and-forth pattern of motion and response. One side will file a motion asking the court to do something, then the other side has a time limit within which to respond to that motion. Then, having heard from both parties, the court will decide what to do and rule on that issue. Arguably the most important example of this in any lawsuit is the initial petition and the answer. These documents lay out the most important dispute in most cases, “what happened?”
The plaintiff’s “petition” is typically the opening document in a lawsuit. It will contain the plaintiff’s version of events and a request from the court to do something about the situation. Usually this takes the form of a monetary award. Texas petitions for debt lawsuits are often very straightforward, with the plaintiff arguing that the defendant agreed to pay a certain amount and asking the court to make them pay it (often with some additional costs of filing in court thrown in).
The defendant’s “answer” is their response to the petition and, most importantly, the plaintiff’s version of the facts. The most common form of answer is a “general denial,” in which a defendant “generally denies all the allegations in the plaintiff’s petition.” However, this is not always the most appropriate response, and sometimes it can be advantageous to agree with some or even all the facts alleged by the plaintiff. In debt lawsuits such situations are not the norm, though.
General denials typically only serve as a response to the facts alleged by the plaintiff about what happened that led to them filing suit. There may be other defenses a defendant can use to fight back in a lawsuit, depending on the circumstances. Examples include arguing that the suit was filed in the wrong county, that you are not personally liable for the debt in question, or that the contract upon which the suit is based was fraudulently signed. There are many other such defenses, but they won’t apply in every case. To pursue specific defenses like these defendants often must include them as a list of verified denials in their answer, usually in addition to a general denial.
What makes verified denials particularly tricky is that they often must be submitted under oath. This can be achieved through use of a notary public. If you’re not sure whether your answer should include verified denials or which may be applicable, you should consult a lawyer. Failure to submit an answer with the appropriate, sworn denials may lead to a judgment against you that could have been prevented. Courts generally won’t be able to consider a defense if you do not raise it in your answer.
An “affirmative defense” is a defense to the plaintiff’s allegations that applies even if the facts they allege are accepted as true. The most common example of an affirmative defense in Texas debt lawsuits is likely a statute of limitations defense. Most debts in Texas carry a statute of limitations that lasts four years from date of the last payment on the debt, after which the creditor cannot sue to recover the debt. If you believe the statute of limitations has elapsed on a debt you’re being sued over, you may be able to assert this as an affirmative defense. As with all defenses, if you don’t list it in your answer, the court won’t be able to consider it. For more information specifically about the statute of limitations on debt in Texas, see our article on the subject.
What Should an Answer Say?
As discussed above, the most important things contained in any answer are the denials of the facts alleged by the plaintiff and a list of any additional defenses you may wish to use. There may be other requirements depending on the specific defenses utilized. For example, if you believe you were sued in the incorrect venue (county or court) you usually must also file a motion to transfer venue alongside or before your answer.
Beyond that, what you include in your answer depends on what the plaintiff put in their petition. You should be especially cautious to search the plaintiff’s petition for a list of requests for admission. These are treated as separate filings for purposes of your responses, and indeed they may be filed separately from the petition itself. Whether they are filed with the petition or separately, you will need to file a response that addresses each question. Failure to do so will lead the court to proceed as though you have admitted to each request posed by the plaintiff. If this happens, the plaintiff will likely proceed to file a Motion for Summary Judgment and bring about an end to the case in their favor.
When Should You File an Answer?
Since the plaintiff starts a lawsuit off by filing their petition, naturally the defendant is up next with the duty to respond with their answer. Before that, however, the defendant must first be served with the plaintiff’s petition, so they know they’re being sued and need to respond. It’s important to note that service may happen even if a process server doesn’t physically hand you the petition. To help determine if you’ve been properly served, please read our article on Service of Process in Texas.
The date of service is the critical date for determining your answer deadline. Once you’ve been served, the clock starts ticking, and the time limit varies depending on the court in question. In Texas justice courts and small claims courts, you have 14 days from the date of service to file your answer. In county or district court, you count 20 days from the date of service, then proceed to the next Monday. Your answer will be due by 10:00 AM that Monday, unless Monday is a legal holiday. In that case, the answer is due at 10:00 AM on the next day that is not also a holiday (Tuesday, usually).
How Do You File an Answer?
The exact procedure for filing an answer can vary from court to court, so the first step is identifying in which court you’ve been sued. This information is most easily accessible in the top-right of the plaintiff’s petition, in the header. Once you know in which court you’ll be filing, look up their website. Be careful to ensure you’re looking up the right court. Each Texas county has Justice, County, and District Courts, and they are all separate entities.
You should always check your local court rules before filing anything to make sure you comply with their filing, style, and service rules. You will likely be required to send a copy of your answer to the plaintiff or follow strict requirements for how to file your various documents. There may also be various required forms that must accompany your filing.
There is likely a specific court address you must send any documents to if you’re filing via hard copy. There also may be an accessible online system that can save you some time. All this information is typically available on your local court’s website, and possibly on the citation that accompanied the plaintiff’s petition when you were served. Look for a link that describes the “local rules,” or “forms.”
Filing an answer can be a difficult proposition. Major creditors have their own lawyers or hire large firm that specialize in filing debt lawsuits. They have ample experience in laying legal traps that make it hard for people to effectively defend themselves in court. It is possible to do so successfully, and we sincerely hope this article has provided some guidance on how to do that. But if you still feel overwhelmed or just want to improve your odds of a favorable outcome in your debt defense case, give us a call here at Weston Legal. We specialize in defending these same lawsuits and will be happy to discuss your case in a free consultation to give you a better idea of what options are available to you.
As you can see, there are many traps for consumers who try to defend lawsuits without the assistance of an attorney. This article is just a brief overview of the answer process and does not contain all of the information necessary to properly defend a lawsuit. Please call our office for a FREE consultation.
If you have been sued by a credit card company or a debt purchaser in please call WestonLegal for a FREE consultation. We have defended thousands of debt collection lawsuits.