Federal Court Pleadings and Related Deadlines
Pleadings must be construed as to do justice.
The following links lead to calculators for pertinent pleadings deadlines in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Note that many of these rules can be modified by stipulation, a court’s local rules, a judge’s standing order, or a case-specific court order. Always check the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, local rules, and judge’s orders, each of which are available on the relevant court’s website or in your case file on PACER.
- Disclosure statement – Courts may require nongovernmental corporate parties to disclose all the corporations they own/are owned by. (parent company owning >10%)
- Claim for Relief – A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:
- A short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction (unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support.
- A short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and a statement of facts about how defendant(s) violated the law (blending of fact/law).
- A demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative/different types of relief (prayer for relief).
Pleadings containing allegations of fraud or mistake must be stated with particularity.
Answer to Summons or Complaint
Answers are generally due 21 days after the operative complaint, counterclaim or crossclaim is served. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1).) If, however, you brought a motion in connection with the pleadings under Rules 12(b)-(e), and the motion was denied or ruling was postponed until trial, you have fourteen (14) days to answer. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(4).
In its answer, the defendant needs to address each of the paragraphs specifically from the complaint. The defendant can admit, deny, or state a lack of knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of an allegation for each paragraph. In the case of partially true paragraphs, the defendant can admit the part that is true and deny or state lack of knowledge as to the rest. The defendant must also state at this time any affirmative defenses to be raised.
Because generally there is at least some part of the complaint which is true, it is rare for a defendant to answer with a general denial of the complaint, which denies all of the allegations.
Included in the answer is also a response to the prayer for relief, and a catchall denial at the bottom that says the defendant denies all allegations not admitted above, just in case one of the paragraphs from the complaint has not been responded to by accident. Any allegations not addressed by the defendant in its response are considered as admitted for purposes of the trial.
FRCP 8(c) provides an illustrative (not exhaustive) list of 18 affirmative defenses.
- Accord and satisfaction – Defendant purchased/contracted the right to be free from the debt or obligation from Plaintiff.
- Arbitration and award – The present matter has already been settled via arbitration.
- Assumption of risk – Plaintiff knew of a certain danger and chose to act anyway, so that harm that occurred is Plaintiff’s own fault.
- Contributory negligence – Plaintiff’s actions were negligent in some way, which negates ability to recover damages for any negligence on the part of Defendant.
- Duress – Plaintiff’s complaint fails because defendant acted under duress. Defendant was under the threat of serious injury or bodily harm and committed the injurious act as a result (more specific elements required).
- Estoppel – Plaintiff’s complaint fails because plaintiff is estopped from suing. Statement of word or deed prevents the Plaintiff from asserting a certain claim or right.
- Failure of consideration – In contract cases, there was no contract formed because the Plaintiff did not give consideration to the Defendant.
- Fraud – Plaintiff’s complaint failed because plaintiff engaged in fraud. When the action was the result of misrepresentation of facts on the part of the Plaintiff.
- Illegality – Plaintiff’s complain fails due to illegality. The act which was requested was illegal, or the reason the Defendant did not perform the act was because it was illegal.
- Injury by fellow servant – The employer is not liable to the Plaintiff if the injury was as a result of another employee’s negligence.
- Laches – Plaintiff’s complain is barred because of the doctrine of laches. When equitable relief is denied to the Plaintiff because of unreasonable delay in filing the action or stating a claim.
- License – Permission to make use of copyrighted or protected material.
- Payment – The discharge of an obligation by the delivery and acceptance of money.
- Release – The Plaintiff, through some type of writing, has released the Defendant from liability.
- Res judicata – This issue has already been decided by a prior court, and that decision is binding on this court, making recovery impermissible.
- Statute of frauds – The requirements of the statute of frauds are not satisfied in this case, and as a result the contract is unenforceable.
- Statute of limitations – The length of time that the legislature allows to sue for this issue has passed.
- Waiver – The Plaintiff signed a document waiving their rights to sue over the issue.
Answer to Counterclaim/Crossclaim
An answer to a counterclaim or crossclaim is due twenty-one (21) days after service of the pleading that asserts the counterclaim or crossclaim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1)(B).
Rule 12(b) Defenses/Motions
A defendant normally responds to a plaintiff’s complaint by filing an answer pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a). However, the rules provide for another option for defendants who wish to make preliminary objections under certain circumstances. In these cases, a defendant may avoid answering immediately by filing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (see Rule 12(b) for a list of the defenses that may be raised in a 12(b) motion to dismiss).
A motion under Rule 12(b) (like the traditional demurrer) is due before serving a responsive pleading. Therefore, it must be filed no later than 21 days after the operative complaint, counterclaim or crossclaim is served. In the case that no responsive pleading is due, Rule 12(b) motions can be made anytime up to and including trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).
These “pre-answer motions” should be made at the outset of the case. A successful 12(b) motion may eliminate a defendant’s need to answer altogether, thereby providing a strong tactical advantage. For example, when a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the actions making the basis of the complaint (Rule 12(b)(1)), the court has no power to render a judgment. Accordingly, there is no reason for a defendant to put forth defenses to an action that cannot be maintained in the first place. Similar arguments exist where the court is not a proper venue (Rule 12(b)(2)) or the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant (Rule 12(b)(3)). Other defenses highlight defects in the method by which the plaintiff initiated the action. Insufficient service of process (Rule 12(b)(5)) challenges the manner in which the plaintiff served the complaint, and arguments concerning failure to join a necessary party (Rule 12(b)(7)) attack the scope of the plaintiff’s suit.
A 12(b)(6) dismissal, which replaced the common law demurrer, attacks the substantive merits of the complaint. A defendant who moves for dismissal in this manner says the plaintiff “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” meaning even if the plaintiff were to prove the allegations in the complaint, they still would not be entitled to any relief. An example would be a suit for defamation in a jurisdiction that does not recognize a suit for defamation unless a plaintiff can prove a defendant published the defamatory statement. If publication of the defamatory statement is required and the plaintiff cannot alleged it, the plaintiff is not entitled to the relief requested and the court should dismiss the matter.
Effect of a Motion on Answer Deadline
Certain motions must be brought before a responsive pleading is filed. In these cases a defendant may file a motion and wait for further court action before filing their answer.
If the court denies the motion or postpones disposition until trial, an answer is due within fourteen (14) days after notice of the court’s action. If the court grants a motion for a more definite statement, the responsive pleading must be served within fourteen (14) days after the more definite statement is served. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(4).
Reply to an Answer (if Ordered)
A reply to an answer (if ordered by the Court) is due twenty-one (21) days after the order for a reply is served. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1)(C).