What Are The Stages of a Lawsuit?

Procedures vary with the nature and complexity of the legal and evidentiary issues involved in a lawsuit. Here is a general outline of the stages of a civil action.

Summons & Complaint
Every case begins with issuing of a Summons and the filing of a Complaint. The Complaint may contain one or more causes of action such as breach of contract, fraud or perhaps personal injury.

Service of Complaint
After the Summons has been issued and the Complaint filed with the court, they must be personally served on the defendant(s)unless other methods become necessary such as substitute service.

Common Responses to Complaint: Answer
This is a reply from a defendant denying the allegations in the complaint and setting forth the grounds of the defense to the allegations or the response from a
plaintiff denying the allegations in the cross-complaint and setting forth the grounds of the defense to the allegations.

General denial
A response from the defendant denying all allegations contained within the complaint or the response from the plaintiff denying all allegations within the cross-complaint.
If a defendant files a motion or demurrer, a hearing date for that motion will be set prior to the trial process. The California Rules of Court provide that motions have a minimum 16 court day notice period to allow for the opposing side to prepare for the hearing.
If the Defendant files an Answer or a General Denial, the case is set for trial. Arbitration/Mediation is required for all cases except the following:
Trials with a time estimate of less than one day. Jury trials

Class action lawsuits
Actions that include a demand for equitable relief. Actions entered into mediation by the parties.
Special denial
A type of motion where the defendant asserts that a response is not necessary because of a legal defect in the complaint.
Motion to Strike
This motion is similar to a demurrer but is used to request the Court to strike (void) a complaint or answer or part of a complaint or answer due to a defect. It is usually filed with a demurrer.
Motion to Quash
A request for the Court to quash (void) service of the summons and complaint. This motion is usually made on the grounds that the defendant(s) named in the complaint is not under the jurisdiction of the Court. http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/civil/

Once the Complaint and Answer have been filed both parties commence what is known as "discovery." This is a procedure by which the evidence necessary to prosecute both sides of the case is sought by the parties. Depending on the nature and complexity of the case, one or more of the following discovery devices may be used by the parties:
Interrogatories: Written questions which must be answered under oath.
Request for Production of Documents: Demands to produce documents by the parties involved.
Requests for Admission: Requiring the parties to say which allegations they

affirm and which they deny.
Deposition: Within a 75 mile radius, the parties may be required to appear to answer questions under oath in front of a court reporter. Witnesses can also be deposed by the attorneys.
Subpoena Documents From Third Party: Documents can be obtained from various sources through the subpoena power given to attorneys by law.
Discovery Motions (If Applicable)

If a party fails or refuses to comply with discovery requests, it may be necessary for the party asking for the discovery to make a motion in court to compel responses. If the court grants the motion, further responses will be made. If those responses are still inadequate, another motion may be made and the court can sanction (fine) the resisting party. In extreme cases the court can even terminate the action in favor of the moving party.

Trial Setting
Throughout the case the court will set a series of Case Management Conferences to be attended by attorneys for all parties. These hearings are designed to determine whether the case is ready for trial. When the court feels that a case is ready for trial, it will set the date for trial and make orders concerning completion of discovery and final preparation for trial.

Settlement Negotiations
Settlement negotiations may proceed throughout the trial. Often the court will require the parties to try a mediation of the issues or will set a "Mandatory Settlement Conference" (MSC) before the trial date. Settlement negotiations generally become more intense as the trial date approaches.

Trial/Binding Arbitration
The vast majority of cases settle before trial. However if the parties cannot settle the case, the only way to resolve the issues is by way of trial. The other method if all the parties agree, is by Binding arbitration. In this instance, the parties will choose a retired judge or a practicing attorney to hear the evidence then decide an outcome.

If you do not agree with the judgment you may file the following: Motion to Vacate
Motions to Vacate can be made by parties who have had default judgments
entered against them. If granted the default judgment will be vacated and the matter will be reset for a trial.

Motion for a New Trial
Motions for a new trial are made under certain circumstances. This process begins by filing a Notice of Intention to Move for New Trial with the clerk and serving the same on the adverse party within 15 days from the date of mailing of the notice of entry of judgment. The Notice of Intention to Move for a New Trial must state the grounds upon which the motion will be made. Within 10 days of filing the Notice of Intention, the Motion for New Trial must be filed with the Court. The Court will then set a hearing date for your motion. This hearing date must be within 60 days from the date of entry of judgment.

Notice of Appeal
An appeal is not a re-trial. New testimony and exhibits are not allowed. An appeal should not be made simply because a party thinks that they should have been believed or their opponent disbelieved. It is beyond the scope of the appellate court to re-decide a case by re-weighing the existing evidence. Filing a Notice of Appeal does not stop the enforcement of a judgment. A plaintiff who has obtained a judgment may attempt to collect money or remove a tenant even though an appeal is filed.

The rules governing the appeals process are contained in the California Rules of Court (rules 101-108 and 121-144). These rules should be read and followed exactly


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