While each case substantially varies, and there is no one course of events that is guaranteed to occur, many cases follow a similar pattern. Below is an example of the timeline for pleadings, discovery, motions, and, possibly, trial that might occur in a civil litigation case.
1. Complaint Filed by Plaintiff (Day 1). The plaintiff files a complaint with the court. The court will then serve the plaintiff, often by certified mail.
2. Answer Filed by Defendant (Day 28). Under the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, the defendant must respond to a complaint within 28 days of the date when the defendant was served. If the defendant fails to respond (by either filing an answer, a motion to dismiss, or some other pleading), the plaintiff can seek a default judgment against the defendant. A default judgment gives the plaintiff the ability to collect against the defendant, just as if the plaintiff won at trial.
3. Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant (Week 8). If a plaintiff’s complaint does not state a legal claim upon which the plaintiff is entitled to relief, even if everything that the plaintiff claims in its complaint is true, the defendant may be able to dismiss the complaint. The legal method for accomplishing this dismissal is to file a motion to dismiss the complaint. Many cases are not candidates for motions to dismiss. This defensive tool for avoiding liability is generally used when the law, but not necessarily the facts, are on the defendant’s side.
4. Discovery (Months 3 to 8). After the complaint and answer are filed, the parties have the opportunity to learn facts relevant to the case from the opposing side. This information is gathered through a variety of procedural devices, including requests for documents, interrogatories, and depositions.
Occasionally, parties may have a discovery dispute. In those instances, the parties may have to file motions to either compel the opposing party to produce information or to a motion asking the court to grant a protective order, which will stop the opposing party from receiving the disputed information.
5. Summary Judgment (Month 10). After both sides have gathered the facts through discovery, either party may file a motion for summary judgment, which saves the expense of arguing the case at trial. A motion for summary judgment will be granted if neither party has a genuine disagreement about the facts of a case and the law is on the side of the party seeking the motion. If there are still factual disputes at the heart of the case after the parties have gone through the discovery process, summary judgment will not be granted.
6. Pre-Trial Issues (Month 11). If a trial is necessary, pre-trial motions may be filed to determine the admissibility of evidence and other trial issues. Additionally, proposed jury instructions will be drafted. If a jury trial is requested, the jury must be chosen and prospective jurors challenged (voir dire).
7. Trial (1 year). A trial, lasting as short as a few hours or as long as a week, involves an opening statement by both the plaintiff and defendant, examination of witnesses by both sides, and a closing statement by both sides. Some trials are decided by a jury, while other trials are decided by a judge. (A judge always decides the legal issues in a trial.)
8. Post-Trial Motions and Appeal (1 year, 1 week — 1 year, 8 months). After a trial has been held, the parties can challenge certain decisions that were made at trial by the judge or the jury. Appeals can be made from the trial decision on a number issues.
9. Judgment Collection (anytime after a judgment is granted). Once a judgment has been granted, the party with the judgment (known as the judgment creditor) must take legal action to satisfy the judgment. There are legal devices for the benefit of judgment creditors if the judgment debtor refuses to pay the judgment. Sometimes, a judgment debtor simply does not have enough money to pay the judgment. Thus, the ability of a party to pay a judgment should be considered when deciding whether to pursue litigation against that individual or entity.