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Pleadings in a Civil Action

The first stage of a civil action is the "pleading stage." A pleading is a written document (in a certain format) that explains each person's side of the dispute. The person who starts the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The defendant is the person being sued.

IMPORTANT: In Minnesota, a civil action (lawsuit) starts when the plaintiff completes the step of having someone serve (deliver) pleadings (Summons and Complaint) on the defendant. People sometimes make a mistake in thinking that a lawsuit starts when papers are filed with the court, but in Minnesota, service of the pleadings is what starts the lawsuit. After the service, the defendant usually has a deadline of only 20 days to serve a written Answer on the plaintiff.

Name of pleading
What does it do
Who creates it


Notifies the defendant that she is being sued. According to MN Rules of Civil Procedure 4.01, the summons shall:

  • State the name of the court and names of the parties,
  • Be signed by the plaintiff or her attorney,
  • Give a Minnesota address where the plaintiff or her attorney can be served,
  • State the time limit for defendant's answer, and
  • Notify the defendant that if she fails to answer, plaintiff will win, and the court will enter a judgment against defendant and in favor of plaintiff for the money or other action that plaintiff requested in the Complaint.



Contains the following:

  • A short and plain statement of the claim that shows plaintiff is entitled to relief (this is where plaintiff states what happened between plaintiff and defendant and why defendant owes plaintiff money, or should be ordered to pay damages for a loss, or ordered to take other action), and
  • A demand for judgment (this is where the plaintiff includes what she wants the court to order the defendant to do, such as pay money).

See MN Rules of Civil Procedure 8.01, Rule 10, and Rule 11, for more information about the content and format of a Complaint.



Contains the following:

  • A short and plain defense to each claim in the Complaint, if there is a defense, and
  • A response to each paragraph in the Complaint stating that the information is true, partly true, false, or that defendant does not have enough information to say if the paragraph is true or false.

See MN Rules of Civil Procedure 8.01, Rule 10, and Rule 11.

The defendant's Answer may also contain "affirmative defenses," which are legal reasons why the defendant should not be held liable for the plaintiff's damages. See MN Rules of Civil Procedure 8.03 - 8.05.



States defendant's claims, if any, against the plaintiff. Takes the same form as plaintiff's Complaint. Generally, the Counterclaim is combined with the Answer, and the pleading is called "Answer and Counterclaim."

If defendant's claims relate to the same set of circumstances or event that led the plaintiff to claim damages against the defendant, the claims must be set out in the Counterclaim, or defendant may be prohibited from suing for these claims later.

It is also possible to include claims against plaintiff that are unrelated to the event raised in Plaintiff's Complaint. See MN Rules of Civil Procedure 13.


Reply to Counterclaim

Sets out plaintiff's reply to defendant's Counterclaim. See "Answer" above; plaintiff's Reply follows the same format as the Answer.


Other possible pleadings include:

  • Reply to the Answer,
  • Third-Party Complaint, and
  • Answer to Third-Party Complaint.

These pleadings are used in more complex cases. The Court does NOT publish sample forms for these pleadings. You should talk with a lawyer to get legal advice or help with those documents, or you could contact your local law library to see if they have more information on these pleadings.


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