The following posting is made with permission from the State Bar of Wisconsin who originally printed it as an article with the same name included in Young Lawyer Division News, State Bar of Wisconsin, June 2014, Vol. No. 17, Issue No. 3:
For the majority of the nine years since I graduated law school, I have been primarily a civil ligation attorney. I have handled CERCLA Superfund litigation, complex civil matters, commercial litigation, construction litigation, real estate disputes, trust and estate matters and various other matters. I have appeared in federal courts, circuit courts, probate courts and district courts in Michigan and Wisconsin. There are basically three different ways I have seen complaints be answered and I use all three approaches for different reasons.
The Traditional Approach. The traditional approach is the method where the Complaint is answered in numbered paragraphs similar to how the complaint is formatted. For example, the first three paragraphs of the answer might read:
- Defendant admits the allegations contained in paragraph 1 of the Complaint.
- Defendant denies the allegations contained in paragraph 2 of the Complaint as untrue.
- Defendant is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations contained in paragraph 3 of the Complaint, and therefore, leaves Plaintiff to its proofs.
When you have a long complaint, reading an answer like this can get tedious because you have to constantly refer back to the complaint. When I receive an answer like this I either don’t spend much time with it, or I immediately give it to my assistant and tell her to make a document combining the complaint and the answer into one document so it can be more readily understood. I use this type of answer for a number of different reasons such as when I am buying time because I have not developed my theory of defense yet, when I am not yet ready to reveal my theory of defense, when opposing counsel would not give an extension to answer the complaint in a more thorough manner, or when other reasons exist to make the answer a less used document in the case.
Brevity. Another approach to answering the complaint is to do so in three paragraphs, one for each type of answer to the individually numbered paragraphs of the complaint. For example, the first three paragraphs of the answer might read:
- Defendant admits the allegations contained in paragraphs 1, 3, 6, 14, and 21 of the Complaint.
- Defendant denies the allegations contained in paragraphs 4, 7-10, 15, 18, and 20 of the Complaint as untrue.
- Defendant is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations contained in paragraphs 2, 5, 11-13, 16-17, and 19 of the Complaint, and therefore, leaves Plaintiff to its proofs.
Reading an answer like this is much less tedious than the traditional approach, and it is a good format for when there is nothing remarkable to say other than Defendant denies certain allegations of the compliant. It more directly signifies a desire to say there is not much to be learned from the pleadings other than which particular paragraphs are in dispute. This method can be so brief that it leaves the impression that the complaint does not merit a long response. For example, answering a complaint with over 100 paragraphs with a single page answer.
Briefing Your Defense. My favorite way to answer a complaint is to treat it like a brief to the Court. This method is useful when you know (or essentially know) the critical issues (or some of them) and you have good responses to the allegations and/or theories asserted in the complaint. When using this method, I am trying to persuade the Court. I will usually begin the answer with an introduction that cuts to the heart of the issues that are immediately apparent and outlines the defenses that will be later asserted in greater detail through a subsequent motion or otherwise. For example, an Introduction might say something to the effect of:
Plaintiff is suing under the wrong contract. Plaintiff’s whole theory in this case is not only factually inaccurate because Defendant did not do the things that the Plaintiff is alleging, but it is also legally inaccurate because the contract Plaintiff is referring to in the Complaint was replaced by subsequent signed agreements between the parties that completely contradict Plaintiff’s allegations about the terms of the agreement.
After the introduction, I repeat (quote) each individual allegation of the complaint and insert an answer following each quoted paragraph (similar to how discovery requests are usually answered). Not only do I answer the allegations made, I also affirmatively assert relevant facts when it would be helpful to the reader (the Court). For example, an answer to two paragraphs may read as follows:
Complaint paragraph 1: ABC, Inc. is a Michigan corporation with a principal place of business in Marquette, Michigan.
Answer: Defendant denies the allegations as untrue. Defendant affirmatively states that it is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in New York, New York, and that there is no comma in its name. However, Defendant has operations, and does business, in Marquette, Michigan.
Complaint paragraph 2: XYZ, LLC is a Michigan corporation with a principal place of business in Marquette, Michigan.
Answer: Defendant is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations contained in this paragraph, and therefore, leaves Plaintiff to its proofs. However, Defendant currently does not know of any other reason to dispute this allegation, and expects to enter into stipulations with the Plaintiff to narrow the issue in dispute.
The effect of this type of answer is to make it the most useful pleading because all of the information from the complaint is restated in the answer. The biggest problem with this type of answer is that answers can become significantly lengthy.
So those are the three methods of answering a complaint that I have seen and used and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
© June 2014 Brandon J. Evans