• May 31, 2016

Artists-impressions-of-Lady-Justice,_(statue_on_the_Old_Bailey,_London)Common practice in Minnesota civil litigation is for defendants’ answers to allegations made against them in  civil complaints to look something like this (I paraphrase):

Paragraph 1: I admit that I am who you say I am.

Paragraph 2: I deny Paragraph 2-10 of your complaint.

Paragraph 3: Paragraph 11 of your complaint quotes a document that speaks for itself.

Paragraph 4: Paragraph 12 of your complaint states a legal conclusion and I do not have answer legal conclusions.

Paragraph 5: I do not have information to admit or deny Paragraph 13 of your complaint so I deny it.

Paragraph 6: I deny everything else you allege in your complaint.

As all experienced Minnesota civil litigators know, this is barely an exaggeration of the vast majority of responsive pleadings in Minnesota civil litigation. (Appended to this unhelpful jumble are defendants’ “affirmative defenses,” which are often long and silly recitations of inapt defenses. Defendants’ excuse for the catalog of inappropriate defenses is that their clients must raise all imaginable affirmative defenses so as not to waive any of them. This is generally false.)

Answers to complaints do not have to be this way. They could be a lot better and more informative. Courts should enforce their rules so defense lawyers make answers to pleadings better. It could make a difference in how efficiently cases are litigated. Consider one recently filed answer I came across as a model for how the system could work…

In the linked answer, from a case that was the subject of a Minnesota Litigator post just last week, the answer, presumably drafted by a non-Minnesota lawyer, includes the allegations from the complaint. This is a simple and excellent modification of Minnesota common practice that (1) makes the document comprehensible without constant and confusing cross-reference to the pleading being responded to, and (2) functions to discourage all-too-frequent abusive and improper denials, simply by juxtaposing the allegations and responses. (A litigant or her counsel might think twice before denying some basic obvious allegation (for example, Complaint: “Defendant is in the business of selling sporting goods…”  Answer: the weasel defendant or his lawyer denies because Defendant also sells other items like chewing gum at the cash register…))

Furthermore, if you read the linked answer, you will see that the answer is a thoughtful, constructive, meaningful, contribution toward resolution of the case. The answer actually gives the reader an idea of the genuine defenses to liability. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of a faster resolution. Our far-too-common opaque and broad denials in response to pleadings do not educate the complainant, nor complainant’s counsel, nor the court, as to what the real bones of contention are.

Why isn’t this simple clarity required in state and federal courts in Minnesota?


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