My Lawsuit Was Served – Now What?

Posted On June 18th, 2019 by Michael Dunham

Often my clients are confused about the timing of the very early stages of litigation. While specific details can vary in certain cases, in general, the following deadlines apply:

  • The date of service is “day zero”. In general, the defendant has 30 days from the date of service to file a responsive pleading (typically an answer to the complaint). [Example: Defendant is served on Tuesday, June 18. 30 days later is Thursday, July 18. That will be the deadline for Defendant to file his answer on time.]
  • Whenever a deadline falls on a day the courthouse is closed (a weekend, or a holiday), the deadline is automatically extended to the next business day. [Example: Defendant’s answer is due Saturday, September 1. Monday, September 3 is Labor Day, and the courthouse is closed for the holiday. Defendant’s answer will be due Tuesday, September 4.]
  • If no answer is timely filed in the 30-day window, the case automatically goes into default. However, Georgia procedural law gives defendants a 15-day grace period to open default “as a matter of right” by paying the costs of filing the action and filing an answer. [Example: Defendant’s answer is due Friday, August 9. No answer is filed and the case goes into default. 15 days later is Saturday, August 24, and of course the courthouse is closed. Defendant may open default as a matter of right by paying costs and filing an answer no later than Monday, August 26.]
  • Responses to discovery requests are typically due within 30 days of service of the requests, but an exception exists for discovery served with the complaint; such responses are not due until 45 days after service. [Example: Defendant is served with the complaint and discovery requests on Monday, March 20. Defendant’s answer to the complaint will be due Wednesday, April 19, but Defendant’s responses to the discovery requests are not due until Thursday, May 4.]

Once the parties have filed their initial pleadings, there is a typically a discovery period. By default, the discovery period is six months long (though it is very often extended for various reasons) and begins on whatever day the defendant files his answer.

Note the above is based on the procedural law applicable in the state courts of Georgia. Though the Georgia Civil Practice Act is patterned after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and many other states have adopted a similar scheme, if you are in a different jurisdiction, be sure to check the applicable rules in that jurisdiction to be sure you do not mis-calendar your deadlines.