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Do I need to answer a complaint with an affirmative defense even though this complaint don't have a case number

Seattle, WA |

I got served with a summons and complaint but no case number attach. I assume the plaintiff has not file with the court yet. I read that this is pretty common in state of WA. So if I answer the complaint with affirmative defense, what good is it if no case number has been assign to it? And how do I file this with the court if there is no case number?

Attorney Answers 4

  1. Best answer

    Unlike many (most?) other states and unlike the federal courts, in this state a plaintiff can start a case by merely serving an unfiled summons and complaint. It's a cheap way of avoiding the filing fee if the defendant can't be found. It is also a cheap way of testing the defendant's resolve in fighting the case, so that the plaintiff can see whether it's worth the effort to keep going. Sometimes a plaintiff will serve an unfiled summons and complaint to stop the expiration of a statute of limitations if the statute of limitations is close to the deadline. An unfiled summons with complaint is also a crass way of lulling the defendant into treating the complaint too casually and getting caught in a default. Even though it's unfiled, you must still answer it before the deadline by serving (delivering) your answer to the attorney or party who signed the summons. If you don't serve your answer by the deadline, the plaintiff can simply file the case later along with an affidavit that you didn't answer it, and get an immediate default judgment against you. Without a case number, there is no place you can file it in court, so your delivery to the plaintiff's attorney who signed the summons is the only way you can prevent a default. That means you need proof of delivery, either by having the plaintiff's attorney place a receipt on your file copy, or have an independent person deliver the answer and prepare an affidavit of delivery. No ethical lawyer will refuse to give you a receipt for delivery, and law offices with receptionists will usually have a receipt stamp to mark your file copy. You can serve your answer by regular US Mail, but you need to deposit it into the mail 3 days before the deadline. Some people think certified mail with return receipt requested is necessary. Certified mail is not necessary, but if you use certified mail, make sure you also send it by ordinary first class mail. Certified mail alone is not worth much if the item is returned unclaimed, and ordinary first class mail actually has a better chance of actually reaching its intended destination. All you need is to mail it properly addressed with first class postage and prepare an affidavit saying you did so. Although not technically required, it is also advisable to notify the plaintiff's lawyer who signed the summons by phone and email that you are preparing your answer and that you do not intend to default. Keep an activity summary of everything which happens. If the plaintiff, after receiving your answer, decides to go ahead and file the case, the plaintiff is required to file the complaint along with your answer. That's when a case number is assigned, and you will get notice of the case number then. After receiving your answer, the plaintiff might decide not to file, and merely treat the unfiled documents as an opportunity to discuss settlement. If settlement discussions occur but are unsuccessful, the complaint (along with your answer) could be filed later. If you want to make sure the case does not hang in limbo indefinitely, you can serve (deliver) a demand that the plaintiff file the case immediately. Then, if the plaintiff doesn't file, the unfiled complaint is a nullity and if the plaintiff wants to bring it up again the plaintiff has to start over from scratch. Many people would prefer to avoid having their names shown in public court dockets as defendants, because the record shows up in credit reports later. Thus if you think there's a possibility of settlement you don't necessarily have to demand that the case be filed if the plaintiff is not in a hurry to file it. So, you don't have much time. Pay attention exactly to the instructions in the summons even if it's not filed yet.

    This answer is intended as a courtesy only, and does not constitute an attorney-client relationship between the attorney and the questioner.

  2. Try going to the court's website and see if you can find the case under the list of parties named. If so, you should find thee case number. Also, the papers should have the phone number of the pltf or his atty. Call, email, write and ask that they send you a filed copy of the complaint.

  3. Its an old trick. The Plaintiff serve you and if you do not respond in 20 days, they will get a default order in place. You need to contact who ever drafted the complaint, send them a notice of appearance and demand that they file.

    Please note that THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE and are for informational purposes only. This response is not intended to create any attorney-client relationship and is only based on the limited facts given. The response might change should additional facts be learned and should not be relied on as legal advice. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney who can properly assess the situation, as well as all pertinent facts, prior to taking any action based on the foregoing statements

  4. Look up the case on the court's website by doing a name search for the plaintiff's name or for your name. It could be that no case was even filed.

    Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.