Michigan Civil Procedure
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.
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 “Misrepresentation”.
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 or hand delivered to each defendant.
Response to Complaint
The Defendant(s) has 21 days (28 days by mail) 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. Failure to answer will constitute default and default judgment may be entered by the clerk or requested and entered by the Plaintiff.
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. (cd’s, dvd’s, reports, video’s, etc)
- Requests for Admissions: Requiring the parties to say which allegations they affirm and which they deny.
- Deposition: The parties may be required to appear in the attorney’s (either Plaintiff’s or Defendant’s) office to answer questions under oath in front of a court reporter.
- Subpoena Documents from Third Party: Documents may be subpoenaed 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.
Throughout the case, the court will set a series of Case Management Conferences and Pre-trials 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/Case Evaluation
Settlement negotiations may proceed throughout the trial. Often, the court will require the parties to try a mediation of the issues or will send the case to “Case Evaluation” before the trial date. Case Evaluation is before three attorneys to help settle the case and suggest an amount for the Case Evaluation Amount/Award; if any of the parties are not satisfied they may reject the Case Evaluation Amount/Award and continue the matter for trial. Settlement negotiations generally become more intense as the trial date approaches.
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. The Plaintiff will present proofs, then the Defendant will have an opportunity to cross-examine those proofs. Once the Plaintiff rests or closes its proofs, then the Defense presents its proofs and the Plaintiff will have the opportunity to cross-examine. Once the Defense rests, the Plaintiff may present a rebuttal and the closing arguments from each side. Some trials may last an afternoon, and some trials may last days or weeks or until the parties have presented their proofs and rebuttal.