If you are thinking about filing a civil lawsuit in the California court system, or if you have been served with a civil complaint naming you as a defendant, you must understand the civil court procedures and abide by specific deadlines to prepare your case for trial. Also, almost every rule and deadline have exceptions that may or may not apply to your case.
This article provides an overview of general court requirements. Because your case may differ, we recommend consulting with a civil litigation attorney to fully understand your obligations. If you fail to meet certain deadlines, penalties or court sanctions may be assessed, a plaintiff’s case could be dismissed, or a defendant may suffer a default judgment.
Starting With the Most Important Deadline — The Statute of Limitations
Depending on the type of case, California law requires lawsuits to be filed within specific timeframes. Some of the most common lawsuits and the related filing statutes of limitation are:
- Breach of Oral Contract = 2 years from the date of the breach
- Breach of Written Contract = 4 years from the date of the breach
- Medical Malpractice Claims = 3 years from the date of the injury OR 1 year from the date the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered
- Personal Injury = 2 years from the date of the injury
- Property Damage = 3 years from the date of the damage
- Fraud = 3 years from the date of harm.
There are many exceptions and caveats to the different statutes of limitation that an experienced litigation attorney can explain. For example, most cases brought against governmental entities must be filed within one year from the date of the underlying issue.
After a Complaint is Filed — Service and Document Filing Requirements
Once a lawsuit has begun, California and local laws establish certain schedules that are usually measured in days, not years. It’s imperative to know how a specific court system defines the word, “day.” Usually, a day means a calendar day, not a business day, but there are exceptions. Some filing requirements are based upon “court days” which don’t include weekends or court holidays. If a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is extended to the next court day.
Another relevant factor is how documents are served on the opposing party or attorney. Deadlines often depend on whether the documents were served by regular mail, substitute service, facsimile, express mail, email, interstate or international mail, or some other method.
Here is a basic schedule for a typical civil case after the original complaint is filed.
- The plaintiff has 60 days to serve the complaint on all defendants and file a proof of service.
- Each defendant has 30 days to respond to the complaint. This response may be an answer, an answer and a cross-complaint, or a motion.
- The plaintiff then faces different deadlines that apply to amending the complaint, serving new defendants, filing motions for default judgment, or responding to any cross-complaints or motions filed by a defendant.
If a party misses a deadline, their complaint or defense may be dismissed and judgment entered against them.
While the Case is Pending — Discovery Deadlines
Discovery is the process of exchanging the information necessary to bring the case to trial. The plaintiff can begin discovery 20 days after service of the summons and complaint. The defendant can begin discovery any time after they are served or appear in the action.. Exceptions apply to these deadlines as well, but the general schedule for most typical forms of California discovery is:
- Responses to written requests are due in 30 days.
- Motions to Compel Responses must be filed within 45 days from receiving the responses if they are inadequate.
- All discovery must end 30 days before the trial.
- All discovery motions must be heard 15 days before the trial date.
The court sets a Case Management Conference that both sides must attend. The goal of this conference is to discuss possible settlement, to set a trial date, or to ensure the case is ready for trial on the scheduled date. The parties must meet with each other 30 days before the conference and file a Case Management Statement 15 days before the conference.
Miscellaneous Motion Deadlines
Depending on the case, either side may file various motions to protect their position or require action by or against the other party. These motions also have deadline requirements depending on the situation. Usually, motions must be filed and served at least 16 court days before a hearing on the motion. Opposing motions must be filed at least 9 court days before the court date and replies are due 5 days before the hearing date. These deadlines also depend on how service is made for each document.
Missing Deadlines Can be Fatal
Some people think they can easily file their own lawsuit and bring the case to trial. As you can see, the California civil litigation court system has very specific rules and procedures that everyone must follow, whether they are represented by an attorney or not. If you don’t understand the rules, one misstep or mistake can be fatal to your case.
Attorneys Noreen Evans and Deirdre Kingsbury understand the legal intricacies involved in trial litigation, including all scheduling deadlines and possible penalties. If you need to bring a lawsuit, or if you’ve been served with a complaint, they can answer all of your litigation questions and explain your options. At Evans Kingsbury LLP, we are civil litigation attorneys with decades of trial experience. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.