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Answering a District Court Civil Action

I was served a Summons and Complaint (or Petition). What Do I Do Now?

Don’t Ignore the Summons and Complaint (or Petition)!

You have only 21 days to respond! If you don’t answer the summons and complaint (or petition) in Writing, the judge or judicial referee is allowed to grant the Plaintiff a default judgment Without your input.

If you have any doubts about whether it’s proper for the Plaintiff to sue you in a North Dakota state court, consult a lawyer immediately and before you serve or file a written response, answer, counterclaim or any other court paper.


North Dakota state district court civil action starts with service of a summons on the Defendant. A copy of the complaint must be served with the summons.

The party who starts a civil action with service of a summons and complaint is called the Plaintiff. The party who is served with a summons and complaint requesting civil legal action against them is called the Defendant.

After a Defendant is served the summons and a copy of the complaint, the Defendant has twenty-one (21) days to serve a written answer to the complaint on the Plaintiff.  The Defendant’s answer may include a counterclaim against the Plaintiff.

The written answer is how the Defendant makes their first appearance in the case.  In other words, answering the complaint in writing lets the Plaintiff and the state district court know the Defendant intends to participate in the case.

Why Isn’t the Case Number on the Summons and Complaint (Petition)?

When you’re served the Summons and Complaint (or Petition), the documents won’t have a case number.

In North Dakota, a civil action starts with service of a Summons and a copy of the Complaint (or Petition) on the Defendant. A Summons and Complaint (or Petition) aren’t required to be filed to start a civil action. You and the clerk of court won’t be able to find a case number in North Dakota state district court case files.

  • The Plaintiff can’t file the Summons and Complaint (or Petition) until the Plaintiff gets proof of service that they served copies on the Defendant. The Summons and Complaint (or Petition) and proof of service are then filed together and a case number is assigned.

If you want to take part in the case, you must serve your written Answer to the Summons and Complaint (or Petition) within 21 days after you were served. You serve your written Answer to the Summons and Complaint (or Petition) without a case number.

If you don’t serve your written Answer within 21 calendar days after the date you were served, you may be found in default. This means you won’t have a chance to take part in the case or be heard on the matter. The court may give the Plaintiff what they requested in the Complaint (or Petition) without your input.


An answer is a written response by a Defendant to a complaint.  An answer admits or denies each of the claims in the complaint. If a Defendant doesn't have enough information to admit or deny a claim, the Defendant must say so. If a Defendant fails to deny a claim, the claim is considered admitted by the Defendant.

The answer must also state any defenses to the claims in short, plain statements.


A counterclaim is a written demand or request to the state district court for judgment granting the relief the Defendant is seeking. A counterclaim allows the Defendant to bring claims against the Plaintiff.

The counterclaim is included with the Defendant’s answer to the Plaintiff’s complaint and must meet all the requirements of a complaint.

Service of the Answer

Service of the answer requires the Defendant to arrange for delivery of a copy of their written answer to the Plaintiff within twenty-one (21) days of service of the summons and complaint.

The proof of service tells the state district court when, how, and where the Plaintiff was served a copy of the Defendant's written answer. An affidavit of service, or a declaration of service, gives the court proof of service.

Default Judgment if the Defendant Doesn’t Answer

A default judgment may be requested if the Plaintiff can prove the Defendant was correctly served the summons and complaint and the Defendant didn’t answer in writing within the 21 day deadline.  The Plaintiff makes the request to the court in a written motion for default judgment.

When a Defendant doesn’t answer in writing AND doesn’t give the Plaintiff any other indication that they intend to participate in the case, the Plaintiff isn’t required to notify the Defendant that they’re making a motion for default judgment.

If the Plaintiff proves to the court the Defendant defaulted, AND proves the claims in their complaint, the court may grant the Plaintiff a default judgment without the Defendant’s involvement.  The judgment has the same effect as a judgment granted with the Defendant’s involvement.

Forms and Guides for Answering a District Court Civil Action

North Dakota Legal Self Help Center forms aren’t official court forms and courts aren’t required to accept them. There’s no guarantee that all judges and courts will accept forms available through the Center. Use at your own risk.

Forms aren't available for every legal issue or circumstance.  If you do not find the form on this website, the form isn't available through the North Dakota Legal Self Help Center.

You may need to create legal documents yourself.  The General-Use forms below may be used as a starting point for creating your own answer documents.

Informational Guide:

Checklists and General Use Forms:

Answer Forms for Divorce and Establishing Custody and Visitation:

Selected Statutes (Laws) & Rules

Following are legal research starting points related to answering a district court civil action. You may need to conduct additional legal research into your legal issue.  See the Legal Research Section of this website.

Other Resources

Following are other resources related to answering a district court civil action that may be of interest.

If you don't understand any of this information, or if you have trouble filling out any of the forms located here, consult a lawyer.

The information provided on and obtained from this site does not constitute the official record of the Court. This information is provided as a service to the general public. Any user of this information is hereby advised that it's being provided "as is". The information provided may be subject to errors or omissions. Visitors to this site agree that the Court isn't liable for errors or omissions of any of the information provided.

If you have a question relating to a case that is already filed please contact the clerk of court for the county.