Why did I receive court papers from the District Court about a debt?
The complaint will tell you 1) who is suing you; 2) the reason why; and 3) how much the person or company claims you owe.
The plaintiff is the person or business that starts a court case. The defendant (you) is the person or organization who is being sued. The court paperwork may include a summons which will tell you the date, time, and location of the trial.
What should I do?
When you receive the complaint, you have several options:
Raise a Procedural Issue
- Improper Service- The plaintiff must legally serve you a copy of a summons or complaint. If you are not served legally, you can request that the court dismiss the case for improper service. File your request as soon as possible before the trial date on the DC-002, Motion. If the judge grants your request and postpones the trial, the plaintiff will have to serve you with a new summons.
- Not a District Court Case – The District Court can only hear matters where the amount sought excluding interest and costs is $30,000 or less. Matters greater than $5,000 but less than or equal to $30,000 may be heard in either District Court or circuit court.
- Wrong Venue - The lawsuit is filed in the wrong city/county. (The location is not in a county where the defendant lives, carries on business, or engages in a vocation.)
- No Jurisdiction - If you do not live in Maryland or do not have business here, Maryland courts may not be able to rule on the case.
File a Notice of Intention to Defend (Md. Rule 3-307)
If you choose to defend yourself, you must file the Notice of Intention to Defend with the court. Look for the Intention to Defend section on the bottom half of the summons:
- The Notice of Intention to Defend includes space for you to explain why you disagree with all or part of the claim. Give a brief reason why you do not agree with the claim. You will have the opportunity in court to explain and give more details. You have 15 days from the date that you receive the summons to file this notice with the court. (Out-of-state defendants have 60 days to file the notice.)
- Cut the notice at the perforated line, complete, sign, and return it to the court address on the top of the summons.
- After you file your notice to defend, the court date on the summons may change.
- Bring your exhibits and other evidence to court with you.
If you DO NOT return the Notice of Intention to Defend to the court, the court may enter a judgment against you. The plaintiff may fill out the affidavit section of the form below and submit enough evidence to prove their case.
File a Counterclaim Against Opposing Party (Md. Rule 3-331)
- You may respond to a lawsuit by filing one of your own.
- If you file in the same case, your claim is a "counterclaim." A counterclaim is a defendant's way of saying "I don't owe you money. You owe me money."
- You may file a counterclaim within ten (10) days after the time for filing a notice of intention to defend.
- To file a counterclaim complete the DC-CV-001 - Civil Complaint.
- File your counterclaim in the same court location as the original case.
- Decide how you want to serve the other side.
- Pay the filing fee and the service fee if there is one. (Filing and Service fees can be found on the, DCA-109, District Court Civil Cost Schedule).
- If you cannot afford the fees, file a Request for Waiver of Prepaid Costs, CC-DC-089.
- If you want to serve the counter complaint by certified mail or the sheriff, the court will issue a Writ of Summons to notify the other side that you filed the counterclaim. If you want to serve the complaint by first class mail or private process, the court will issue the Writ of Summons to you. You are responsible for serving the Summons and Complaint on the Counter-Defendant. Click here for information about how to legally serve the documents. (Transcript of Service of Process in the District Court video)
- The court will not set a trial date until proof is filed showing the other side received a copy of the complaint. If you serve the complaint by first class mail, return form CC-DC-067, Certificate of Service - First Class Mail. If the sheriff or a private process server gives the complaint to the defendant, a copy of the DC-CV-002, Proof of Service form should be filed with the court.
Try to Negotiate a Settlement
- Both parties in a dispute have the option of negotiating a settlement before going to court.
- You may attempt to negotiate on your own or seek the help of a mediator. In mediation, a trained mediator helps the parties settle or resolve their dispute. If you do not reach an agreement, you can still go to court. District Court mediation is free. For more information, see District Court Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
Agree to a Payment Arrangement
- Contact the plaintiff (or their attorney) before the trial date to see if you can agree on a payment plan.
- If you agree to a payment plan, get the agreement in writing. Notice of the agreement must be provided to the court. If the agreement is that the case will be dismissed, you may use the form Notice of Dismissal (DC-CV-021).
- Keep copies of checks or money order stubs that you use to pay off the debt. It is important to keep a record showing that you made payments or paid off the debt.
- If you do not make the payments as agreed, the plaintiff could still bring you to court for the amount you owe.
Resolution Conference (Montgomery and Prince George's Counties only)
- For information on resolution conferences, please see Resolution Conference.
If you are in the military service, you have rights under Federal law if someone sues you. If you are in the military, the court may appoint an attorney for you or postpone the case during your service.
The plaintiff must complete the military service section on the complaint form.
If the plaintiff asks for a judgment by affidavit or default, they must certify that you are not in the military. Otherwise, the court cannot grant the request without a trial.
Click here for information about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
How can I prepare for my case?
Read the complaint, exhibits, and other papers filed with the complaint. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What evidence do I need to disprove what the plaintiff says?
- How can I find the documents or witnesses?
- What has happened since that time that might be important?
- Does the complaint tell all the key parts of the story?
- What else do I need to tell or show the judge?
If you have a contract, read it. If you want to show that the contract is not valid, you must explain why.
You should review any letters or emails between you and the plaintiff. Did the other side admit anything that supports your case? Do they give insight into the other side's case? If so, how can you counter these arguments?
If you want witnesses at your trial:
- Contact the clerk's office to request subpoenas at least two (2) weeks before your court date.
- Serve the subpoena on the person, their authorized agent, or their attorney.
- A subpoena can be served by a sheriff for a fee or a person who is not a party to the case and is not less than 18 years of age.
- You must serve the subpoena within 60 days from the issue date on the form. A subpoena is not valid after the 60 day deadline.
Bring any evidence to court that will support your case and that you want the judge to consider. If you don't bring it to court, it doesn't count!
What happens when I go to court?
The plaintiff will go first. After the plaintiff gives their side, you will be able to present your defense. After hearing all of the evidence, the judge will decide in favor of either the plaintiff or defendant.
If the court enters a judgment in court or without a trial, visit Judgments and Debt Collection to find out what happens next and what your rights and options are.