I've Been Sued, Now What?
This blog post addresses some initial deadlines in litigation, specifically the deadline to respond to civil lawsuits and subpoenas.
Whether you are being sued, subpoenaed, or asked to go to a hearing, you should understand your rights and when you must act on them. Because the rules often vary and there are other components to consider, consulting an attorney is highly advisable--even necessary--to help ascertain what those rights and deadlines entail.
If someone files a lawsuit against you in Texas, they may serve you with papers either in person, by certified mail return receipt requested, by publication, or, in some instances, through social media. You have a certain period of time to answer the lawsuit. If you fail to appear and contest the matter, a default judgment may be taken against you.
Lawsuits in District Court, generally:
After you have been served with a lawsuit that was filed in a Texas state district court, you have until "10:00 a.m. on the Monday next after the expiration of twenty days after the date of service thereof" to appear or answer. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 122. For example, if you were served on Thursday, May 6, 2021, you need to answer by Monday, May 31, 2021. These timetables may be complicated by holidays, service by publication, emergency orders, or other circumstances.
In federal court, a defendant generally has 21 days of being served to file an answer. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1)(a)(i).
If you miss these deadlines, all may not be lost, so contact an attorney immediately to preserve your rights.
Lawsuits in Justice Courts, generally:
Generally, an answer is due by the end of the 14th day after the day the defendant was served with the citation and petition, but (1) if the 14th day is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the answer is due on the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday; and (2) if the 14th day falls on a day during which the court is closed before 5:00 p.m., the answer is due on the court’s next business day. Tex. R. Civ. P. 502.5(d).
Lawsuits Served By Publication:
Evading service is not advisable. Anyone who has taken the time to file a lawsuit against you will try to get you served one way or another. As such, you may find yourself being served by publication in a newspaper or on a website, after which point a default may be taken against you.
Generally, a party served by publication in county or district court has until "10 o'clock a.m. of the first Monday after the expiration of 42 days from the date of issuance" to answer. A party served by publication in justice court has until "the first day of the first term of court which convenes after the expiration of 42 days from the date of issue" to answer. Tex. R. Civ. P. 114.
Civil Subpoenas, generally:
You or your business may get served with a subpoena to produce testimony, documents, or both.
In Texas state courts, you may be asked to appear for oral deposition or deposition on written questions or to produce documents or tangible things by whatever time is specified in the subpoena. One may automatically stay a deposition by filing a proper motion to quash within 3 business days after the date of service. Tex. R. Civ. P. 199.4.
With federal subpoenas, a party must serve objections within 14 days after receiving the service. Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c)(3)(B).
Lawsuits are serious matters. If you have been served with a lawsuit, a default judgment may be taken against you should you fail to answer or appear. If you have been properly served with a subpoena, you may face contempt for noncompliance or waive objections to certain requests.
To protect your rights you must first assert them. Even if you believe you may have missed these deadlines, an attorney may be able to assist you in protecting your rights.
***This should not be construed as universally applicable. I am a Texas attorney licensed to practice Texas law. You may be sued in another state, territory, or country and receive papers in Texas. Different timelines apply for different matters. This blog post only provides limited information on certain civil matters.***