Common lawsuit deadlines in California unlimited civil litigation.

If you have recently initiated a lawsuit, or if you have recently been sued, you are probably wondering: what should I do next? What deadlines am I up against? In any California lawsuit, there are numerous deadlines both parties must meet. Failing to meet these deadlines could result in important penalties for the late party. So, it’s a good idea to properly calendar events at the outset of litigation. This article provides a general overview of the first steps of the process in unlimited civil lawsuits in California.

Calculating a “day” for civil deadlines.

For the most part, the days discussed below are calendar days, not business or court days. There are, of course, certain exceptions, particularly when it comes to responding to motions. ((See, e.g., Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 1005.)) In those cases, the law will require the number of days to be calculate based on court days, which exclude weekends and holidays from the calculation.

When making calendar calculations (for those time limits not based on court days), you generally exclude the first day and include the last day, unless it falls on a weekend or holiday. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 12.)) If the last day to respond falls on a weekend or a holiday, the deadline falls on the next court day. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 12a.))

The Schedule.

Lawsuits begin with the filing of a complaint. ((Code of Civ. Proc., § 411.10.)) The complaint must be filed within the applicable statute of limitations, the deadline of which will vary based on the allegations of the lawsuit. After the complaint is filed, there are several deadlines that must be met.

Below is a general schedule of some (but not all) common deadlines for parties after an unlimited civil lawsuit is filed. Importantly, if you are the party that has initiated the lawsuit, you are the plaintiff. If you are the party being sued, you are usually called the defendant.

Plaintiff’s Deadlines.

  • Service of the summons and complaint: Plaintiffs must serve all named defendants and file a proof of service with the court within 60 days of the filing of the complaint. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (b).)) If the plaintiff fails to serve a party and has not received an extension from the court allowing them more time to serve the defendants, the plaintiff could be ordered by the court to show cause why service hasn’t occurred. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (f).)) A court can also impose sanctions on the plaintiff. ((Id.)) These sanctions, however, will usually not include dismissal of the complaint if the delay in serving the summons and complaint is less than two years—there are exceptions, however, for plaintiffs that fail to show any cause. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., §§ 583.130, 583.410; Hawks v. Hawks (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1435, 1437 delay of less than two years in service of the summons and complaint is not a ground for dismissal under the only provision relied upon by the trial court.”].))
  • Amendment of the complaint: Generally, a plaintiff is entitled to amend their complaint as a matter of course any time before an answer has been filed by the defendant or before a hearing on a demurrer has occurred, whichever is earlier. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 472.)) An amendment to a complaint, however, restarts the clock for the defendant to answer.
  • Service on new defendants: If the plaintiff amends the complaint to add a new defendant, the plaintiff must serve the new defendant and file a proof of service with the court within 30 days of filing the amended complaint. ((Id.))
  • Defendant doesn’t respond to the complaint: If the plaintiff properly serves the defendant and the defendant doesn’t answer, demur, move to strike, or otherwise respond within 30 days (or, if an extension has been granted, whatever date the defendant’s response was due), the plaintiff must file a request for the entry of default within 10 days of when the time for service has elapsed. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (g).))
  • After default has been entered: The plaintiff must obtain a default judgment against the defendant within 45 days of the entry of default, unless the plaintiff has obtained an extension of time. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (h).))
  • Response to a cross-complaint: If a defendant files and serves a cross-complaint on the plaintiff, the plaintiff has 30 days to file a response, which may be in a number of forms, including: a motion to strike, a demurrer, or an answer. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 432.10.))
  • Opposition to a demurrer or motion to quash: If a demurrer or motion to quash is filed by the defendant, the plaintiff must file their opposition nine court days before the hearing. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 1005.))
  • Demurrer to an answer: If a plaintiff feels that the answer to their complaint did not state facts sufficient to constitute a defense, or if the answer is uncertain, the plaintiff may file a demurrer to the answer within 10 days of being served with the answer. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc, §§ 430.40, subd. (b), 430.20.)) This same rule applies to answers to cross-complaints.

Defendant’s Deadlines.

  • Defendant’s response to the plaintiff’s complaint: Must be filed within 30 days of being served. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 412.20.)) This response can take a number of forms, including one or more of the following: an answer (most common), a demur, a motion to strike, a motion to transfer, or a cross-complaint.
  • Demurrer to a complaint or cross-complaint: A demurrer is a pleading that objects to some or all of the plaintiff's complaint. Usually, the demur alleges that the complaint is deficient because the facts alleged do not meet one or more of the elements necessary to win. A demurrer is often filed with the answer, but if it is not the defendant may file the demurrer within thirty days of the service of the cross-complaint. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 430.40, subd. (a).))
  • Extension for defendant’s answer: A defendant and plaintiff may agree to allow the defendant an extra 15 day extension to file their answer. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (d).))
  • Response to a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt (form POS-015): If the defendant has received the summons and complaint by mail with a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt, they have 20 days from the date of mailing to return it.
  • Filing of a cross-complaint: A cross-complaint, if one needs to be filed, must be filed before or at the time of the defendant's answer. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., §§ 412.20, 428.50.)) After that time has passed, the party will require leave from the court to file a cross-complaint.
  • Motion to quash: A motion to quash attacks a complaint on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction or inconvenient forum. If a motion to quash is appropriate, the party must file their motion on or before the last day of his or her time to plead or within any other time allowed by the court. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 418.10.)) If the plaintiff files an opposition to the motion to quash, the defendant should file their reply five court days before the hearing. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 1005, subd. (b).))
  • Service of a cross-complaint: A cross-complaint must be accompanied with a proof of service at the time it is filed. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (c).)) If, however, the cross-complaint adds new parties to the action, those parties must be served and proof of service must be filed with the court within 30 days of the filing of the cross-complaint. ((Id.))

Deadlines for both parties.

  • Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings: A motion for judgment on the pleadings must be filed no later than 16 court days before the hearing. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 1005, subd. (b).)) This time may be extended if the method of service is by mail or fax. ((Id.)) An opposition to the motion should be filed nine court days before the hearing, and a reply to the opposition should be filed at least five court days before the hearing. ((Id.))
  • Payment of $150 jury fee: On or before the date set for the Case Management Conference, parties that want to preserve their right to a jury trial must pay a $150 non-refundable fee. If another party on the same side of the litigation has already paid this fee, then parties do not need to make this payment again. ((Cal. Code of Civ. Proc., § 631, subd. (b).))
  • Case management conference: This date is set by the court shortly after the complaint is filed. It is often scheduled for several months after the filing of the complaint.
  • Case management statement: Every party must file a case management statement (form CM-110) no later than 15 calendar days before the date set for the case management conference. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.725.))
  • Responding to an order to show cause: if either party is ordered to show cause by the court, they must file their responsive papers at least five calendar days before the hearing. ((California Rules of Court, Rule 3.110, subd. (i).))

What happens next?

After these initial deadlines have been successfully met, the case proceeds with discovery (where the parties exchange evidence) or other litigation stages. The deadlines discussed above are really only the beginning of a process that often turns out to be costly and time-intensive.

Final thoughts.

Of course, this list of deadlines is not comprehensive. The applicable deadlines will vary from case to case and may depend on what the parties are trying to do. If you're pursuing or defending a lawsuit, it's important to discuss your case with an attorney.

If you have questions about your California lawsuit, please call Optimum Employment Lawyers at (949) 954-8181 for a free and confidential consultation to determine your legal options.