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Blog Post  “I’ve been served with a complaint, what do I do?”

If you need to respond to a summons and complaint that has been served on you, our Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries have materials that can help.
  • Trial Court Law Libraries

 If I get served with a complaint, what do I do?

  • Read the summons and the complaint or petition. It is important to read both the summons (or citation) and the complaint (or petition) very carefully. The complaint or petition will tell you what claims are being made against you. The summons or citation will include important instructions on what steps you should take to defend yourself. Know the rules that apply to your case and follow them.
  • Write and file an answer. The “answer” is your written response to the claims made against you. You must file an answer with the court that issued the summons or citation. If you fail to answer, you could lose the case without ever having the opportunity to tell your side of the story. The summons or citation will provide you with information regarding where and when to file your answer.
  • Serve the other party with a copy of the answer. You have to serve the other party with a copy of your answer. Consult the rules to find out how. The clerk’s or register’s or recorder’s office might also be able to answer questions you have. The Trial Court law libraries are a source of information as well….


  • Some defenses must be stated in the answer or you may lose your right to use them in court. These are called affirmative defenses.
  • Research the rules and law to find out if any of your defenses to the complaint are affirmative defenses that must be stated in your answer.
  • This is a critical step in the court process. The applicable laws and rules that apply are complex and will require your attention.


  • Failure of a defendant to file an answer might result in the entry of a default judgment. A default judgment is when the judge grants the plaintiff’s request and enters judgment in favor of the plaintiff without hearing from the defendant.

Source: Representing Yourself in a Civil Case, Massachusetts Court System.

Before responding to your complaint, you can read the court rules governing your Massachusetts or Federal case, as well as other Sources of Massachusetts and Federal law.

For cases brought under the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, information about filing a motion to dismiss or an answer to the complaint, as well as affirmative defenses, counterclaims and other procedural steps can be found in such titles as:

These titles also provide information and sample forms for motions to enlarge time to answer as well as motions set aside defaults or default judgments.

You can tailor the sample forms to your case’s circumstances.

You can learn about subject areas of the law by reading our webpages and by visiting one of our 15 Trial Court Law Libraries. If you have a Trial Court Law Library card, you can borrow most titles in our collections. You can also use our online catalog to check for and request titles you would like to use, and have them held for you at the Trial Court Law Library of your choice.

Good Reading!

Written By: Sharon Harrington

  • Trial Court Law Libraries 

    There are 15 Trial Court Law Libraries located across Massachusetts to serve the courts, attorneys and the public. We are here to help you with your legal information needs.
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