General Civil Timeline:
No two cases are alike and procedures vary with the nature and complexity of the legal and evidentiary issues involved. The following is a very general outline of the stages of a civil action.
Complaint Filing Every case begins with the filing and service of a Summons and Complaint. The Complaint will contain one or more "causes of action" such as "Breach of Contract" or "Fraud".
Service Of Complaint After the Summons and Complaint have been filed with the court, they must be properly served on the defendant(s). If the defendant(s) will accept service, he/she may sign an "Acknowledgment of Service." Otherwise the documents will have to be formally served.
Response To Complaint The Defendant(s) have 30 days from the date of service of the Summons and Complaint to serve on the Plaintiff(s) either an Answer to the Complaint or a pleading challenging the sufficiency of the Complaint. Responses challenging the sufficiency of the Complaint include a motion called a "Demurrer" and a "Motion To Strike".
Hearing Of Challenges To Sufficiency Of Complaint (If Applicable) If the defendant(s) decide to file a demurrer or motion to strike, these motions must be heard and ruled upon before the matter may proceed. This can take up to 2 months. If such motion is sustained and the court grants leave to amend the Complaint, a new complaint must be drafted and served and the process starts over. Sometimes a second demurrer or motion will be filed causing more delays.
Discovery Once the Complaint and Answer have been filed both parties commence "discovery" procedures by which the evidence necessary to prosecute both sides of the case. 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 for production of documents by the parties involved. Requests For Admission: Requiring the parties to say which allegations they affirm and which they deny. Deposition: The parties may be required to appear in the opposing attorney's office to answer questions under oath in front of a court reporter. Depositions can also be taken from 3rd parties.Subpoena Documents From Third Party: Documents may be subpoenad from 3rd parties such as banks and employers.
Discovery Motions (If Applicable)
If a party fails or refuses to comply with discovery requests, it may be necessary for the party propounding 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 general become more intense as the trial date approaches.
Trial 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.