After a plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant has an opportunity to respond. The time period for responding is different in certain situations.
In District Court cases, a defendant must respond in the following ways in order to have his or her day in Court:
- File a Notice of Intention to Defend: The defendant must file this within 15 days of receiving the summons. The Notice is on the bottom half of the summons. Once the defendant has responded, the Court will send the plaintiff a copy of this notice.
- File a Counterclaim, Cross-claim, or a Third-Party Complaint. Generally, a counterclaim or cross-claim must be filed within 10 days of the deadline for filing the Notice of Intention to Defend. A third-party claim must be filed any time before 10 days before trial.
- A counterclaim is when the defendant sues the plaintiff.
- A cross-claim can occur only when there is more than one plaintiff or more than one defendant in the suit. A cross-claim is filed by one party against a co-party on the same side of the original case (i.e. defendant1 vs defendant 2).
- A third-party complaint occurs when a defendant files suit against yet another party because of the plaintiff’s original claim. In filing these types of claims, the defendant would follow the same procedures as the plaintiff originally when they filed their complaint.
A defendant may decide to file a motion, in addition to the responses above. For example, a defendant could do the following:
- File a Motion to Transfer the Case to Circuit Court for a Trial by Jury. In District Court, the judge decides the case. Any party can always choose to have a District Court case heard by a jury in Circuit Court. The plaintiff must do this by filing a demand for a jury trial along with the complaint. A defendant may do this within 10 days of the deadline for filing the Notice of Intention to Defend. Jury trials can become very complicated and expensive, however, so it would be useful to evaluate your situation again before proceeding in this way.
- File a Motion to Dismiss. Maryland Rule 3-326 has special provisions for the dismissal of a case that is not filed in the correct county. Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 3-326
- Claim that the plaintiff did not give proper notice. The defendant would do this through a pre-trial request or an argument at trial. If the request or argument is successful, the judge would postpone the trial, and the plaintiff would have to serve notice properly.
A defendant could also choose to ignore the summons. However, if the defendant fails to respond within 15 days of receiving the summons, he or she may lose the case automatically (called a default judgment). Read more about default judgments, and what to do if you receive one.
Finally, a defendant may try to settle the case out of court. If one party has an attorney, the other party must always contact their attorney and not the party. Otherwise, if both parties are self-representing their own cases, they may be able to work to settle the case themselves. Still, it is a good idea to use mediation services whenever possible to save time, effort, and money in getting a resolution to your case. Read more about mediation.
In Circuit Court, there are more rules to follow for answering a complaint. In most cases, if the defendant does not file an answer or counterclaim within 30 days of service of process, he or she may be unable to present a defense. Maryland Rule 2-321 does list a few exceptions to the 30-day rule, so it is important for defendants to review that Rule as soon as they are served with a complaint.Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 2-321
Answers in Circuit Court are more formal than in District Court. An answer must follow the format and captioning stated in Rule 1-301. In the answer, a defendant must admit or deny the facts the plaintiff gives in the complaint and contain any legal defenses listed in Maryland Rule 2-323. In Circuit Court, a defendant may also file certain procedural motions before filing an answer. Some of these motions, which are listed in Maryland Rule 2-322, must be made at this point in the case or they cannot be used. Finally, in some instances outlined in Maryland Rule 2-323(h), a defendant may need to file a Case Information Report. It is important to consult the Maryland Rules when answering a complaint filed in Circuit Court. Your local law library also may have additional books and sample forms on answering complaints. Read the Rules: Maryland Rule 1-301, 2-322, 2-323