Answering a Complaint or Petition
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You are not required to hire an attorney, but answering a complaint or a petition can be complicated. Consider talking to an attorney to go over your options. One way to talk to an attorney is to visit a free legal clinic. Clinics provide general legal information and give brief legal advice. You might also hire an attorney for just part of your case or to do one particular thing, rather than represent you for the whole case. For more information, see our page on Finding Legal Help.
The plaintiff notifies the defendant about the lawsuit by serving them with the complaint or petition and summons. The defendant must "answer" the complaint within the time deadline. The answer is the defendant's chance to agree or disagree with each of the plaintiff's statements, to make any affirmative defenses, or to raise a counterclaim.
If the defendant is served inside Utah, the defendant must file an answer within 20 days after service. If the defendant is served outside Utah, the defendant must file an answer within 30 days after service. The time to answer in an eviction case is much shorter. The summons will say how many days the defendant has to respond.
If the defendant does not file an answer or an appropriate motion within that time, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter a default judgment. A default judgment means the plaintiff wins, and the defendant doesn't get the chance to tell their side of the story. For more information and forms, see our page on Default Judgments.
In the answer the defendant must admit or deny the statements from the complaint in simple, short and plain sentences. If the defendant is without information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of a statement from the complaint, the defendant must so state, and this has the effect of a denial. If the defendant denies a statement from the complaint, the denial must fairly meet the substance of the statement. If the defendant’s answer fails to deny a statement to which an answer is required, the defendant is deemed to have admitted the statement.
Instead of answering, the defendant may file one of the motions described in URCP 12. If the judge grants the motion, the judge’s order will direct what to do next. If the judge denies the motion, the defendant must file an answer within 10 days after the judge’s order. For more information and forms, see our page on Motions.
If the defendant wants a jury trial, and no other party has requested one, the defendant must request one and pay the required fee no later than 10 days after service of the last pleading. The request for a jury trial can be made on the coversheet.
An affirmative defense is a reason that the plaintiff should lose even if all of the claims are true. For example, the plaintiff made a procedural mistake, like not serving the defendant properly or the case was filed after the statute of limitations. The defendant might not have any affirmative defenses.
If the defendant includes in the answer any affirmative defenses, the defendant must state the affirmative defense in simple, short and plain sentences describing the affirmative defense and the demand for relief, such as dismissal of the case or judgment for defendant. See URCP 8(b) for the affirmative defenses that must be stated in the answer.
Counterclaims, Cross Claims and Third-Party Claims
The rules allow the parties to sue each other in a variety of combinations:
- Counterclaim: The defendant sues the plaintiff. URCP 13 about counterclaims.
- Cross claim: One plaintiff sues another plaintiff or one defendant sues another defendant.
- Third-party claim: The defendant sues someone who is not already a party to the case.
The party sued in a counterclaim, cross claim or third-party claim must file a reply to the claim within 20 days after the claim is served. The counterclaim, cross claim or third-party claim must meet all of the requirements of a complaint.
There is no fee for filing an answer, but the party filing a counterclaim, cross claim or third-party claim must pay the required fee, or request that the fee be waived. For more information and forms, see our page on Fees and Fee Waiver. The party must also file a coversheet, but the coversheet does not have to be served on the other parties.
If a party wants a jury trial, and no other party has requested one, that party must request one and pay the required fee no later than 10 days after service of the last pleading. The request for a jury trial can be made on the coversheet.
How do I file an Answer?
Read the papers you received carefully. The summons tells you how many days from the date you were served that you have to file an Answer. You must file the Answer with the court and serve a copy on the plaintiff before that deadline. For more information about calculating time and how to file the Answer, see our page on Filing Procedures.
Removal From District Court Civil Docket to Justice Court Small Claims Docket
If the defendant has been sued in district court for less than the jurisdictional limits of a small claims case, and if the plaintiff agrees, the defendant can have the case removed-or transferred-from the district court to a justice court and tried as a small claims case. If this is to be done, it has to be done within the time that the defendant has to answer the complaint in district court.
- The first step is to see whether the plaintiff agrees to have the case tried as a small claims case. The defendant cannot remove a case unless the plaintiff agrees.
- The second step is to file the notice of removal in the justice court and pay the appropriate filing fee to the justice court. The defendant must pay the filing fee that the plaintiff would have paid for a small claims case. The plaintiff does not get a refund of the district court filing fee, but there is no fee if the plaintiff wants to appeal the small claims decision.
- The third step is to file a notice of removal in the district court. This must be done after the notice of removal in the justice court because the defendant must provide to the district court the case number from the justice court.
All three steps must be completed within the time that the defendant has to answer the complaint in district court: 20 days after service if served in Utah; and 30 days after service if served outside of Utah. When these steps are complete, the district court will send a copy of the court's records to the justice court. The case can be removed to a justice court whose jurisdiction is:
- in the judicial district in which the civil case is pending;
- where the defendant resides; or
- where the events happened.
Once the case is removed to justice court, the court will schedule the case for trial, and the case will proceed as any other small claims case in that court. If the defendant wants to appeal the small claims decision, they will have to pay the appropriate filing fees. If the plaintiff wants to appeal the decision, they do not.
What if I need more time?
If you need more time to file an Answer, contact the other party's attorney, or, if the other party does not have an attorney, contact the other party. Do not delay. If the plaintiff does not agree to give you more time, you must file your Answer within the original time.
- If plaintiff agrees to allow you more time, send plaintiff a letter describing what you agreed to. Keep a copy for yourself.
- If plaintiff does not agree, you must file an Answer within the time allowed or risk a default judgment.
Forms for Filing an Answer
Forms for Filing a Counterclaim
Forms to Answer an Eviction Complaint
Use OCAP, the Online Court Assistance Program. Select Landlord-Tenant and choose Respond to an Eviction Case.
Forms for Removing a Case to Justice Court
- Checklist - PDF | Word
- Notice of Removal from District Court (Filed in Justice Court) - PDF | Word
- Notice of Removal to Justice Court (Filed in District Court) - PDF | Word
- Notice of Hearing - PDF | Word