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The paper that tells a defendant that he or she is being sued and asserts the power of the court to hear and determine the case. A form of legal process that commands the defendant to appear before the court on a specific day and to answer the complaint made by the plaintiff.

The summons is the document that officially starts a lawsuit. It must be in a form prescribed by the law governing procedure in the court involved, and it must be properly served on, or delivered to, the defendant. If the prescribed formalities are not observed, the court lacks authority to hear the dispute.

In the federal district courts, the summons is prepared by the attorney for the plaintiff and given to the clerk of the court where the case will be heard. When the plaintiff's complaint, setting out his claim, is filed with the court, the clerk signs the summons and gives it and a copy of the complaint to a U.S. marshal or to someone else appointed to serve the papers. Once the summons and complaint are served on the defendant, she must respond to them within twenty days or whatever other time the court allows.

Some states follow this same procedure, but other states allow service of the summons and complaint by delivery directly to the defendant. In those states, the lawsuit is considered begun as soon as the defendant receives the papers, even though nothing has yet been filed with a court. Actions commenced in this way are sometimes called "hip pocket" suits.


Service of Process.


n. a document issued by the court at the time a lawsuit is filed, stating the name of both plaintiff and defendant, the title and file number of the case, the court and its address, the name and address of the plaintiff's attorney, and instructions as to the need to file a response to the complaint within a certain time (such as 30 days after service), usually with a form on the back on which information of service of summons and complaint is to be filled out and signed by the process server. A copy of the summons must be served on each defendant at the same time as the complaint to start the time running for the defendant to answer. Certain writs and orders to show cause are served instead of a summons since they contain the same information along with special orders of the court. After service to the defendants, the original summons, along with the "return of service" proving the summons and complaint were served, is filed with the court to show that each defendant was served. A summons differs from a subpena, which is an order to witnesses to appear. (See: service, service of process, complaint, order to show cause, writ)


noun authoritative citation to appear beeore a court, authoritative command, bid, calling to court, citation, command to appear, commandment, direction, legal process, mandate, notification to appear, official call, official court order, official notice, official order, order to appear, request to appear, writ, written notification to appear in court
See also: accusation, charge, command, direction, invitation, monition, order, subpoena, venire, warrant


an official order requiring a person to attend court, either to answer a charge or to give evidence, or the writ making such an order.

SUMMONS, practice. The name of a writ commanding the sheriff, or other authorized officer, to notify a party to appear in court to answer a complaint made against him and in the said writ specified, on a day therein mentioned. 21 Vin. Ab. 42 2 Sell. Pr. 356; 3 Bl. Com. 279.

References in periodicals archive ?
Included in the list of "no notice" third-party recordkeeper summonses are those that seek only to determine whether records of the business transactions or affairs of a person identified in the summons have been made or kept, (29) the identity of a person owning a numbered bank account, (30) that are issued in aid of collection, (31) those issued by an IRS criminal investigator to a person who is not a defined third-party recordkeeper, (32) John Doe summons, (33) and when a court determines that there is a reasonable cause that there will be a spoliation of evidence.
However, when the taxpayer rejected the third request, the IRS issued summonses to other interested parties.
Under the Welsh Language Act 1967, summonses must be produced bilingually and the Welsh Language Board concluded the courts service had breached legal obligations.
A spokesman for HMCS said: "Although we cannot currently send summonses in Welsh automatically, documents can be translated on request within one working day.
The DSNY was aware that New Yorkers deserved time to adjust to a regular recycling schedule, therefore a three-month grace period was granted during which no summonses were issued for the improper recycling of glass," said Sanitation Commissioner John J.
The worse-case scenario, which should not be dismissed out of hand, is that some taxpayers will likely reject the Phase II proposal and insist that the IRS information-gathering proceed exclusively through the issuance of summonses.
While the raw number of total summonses issued in 2003 had actually decreased relative to the previous year as of May, anecdotal evidence suggests police are being pressured to issue tickets in an attempt to meet quotas.
The Environment Agency Wales has been trying to serve 16 summonses on Mr Munslow and could seek to extradite him.
A spokeswoman for Warwickshire County Council said: "We have been served with three summonses in a civil claim for damages.
Donaldson, however, placed a singular limitation on the IRS's criminal investigative authority, what this Note calls the "Justice Department referral" doctrine: the IRS must cease issuing summonses for a particular case once it refers that case to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.
Pansy Mullings, assistant commissioner for Enforcement, said whenever they see violations they will issue summonses.
Last month it was revealed that five councillors had been issued court summonses for non-payment of council tax.