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Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois
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Frequently Asked Questions

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Question Answer
I want to file a lawsuit, what forms do I need and where can I get them?

To file a lawsuit, you must complete Complaint and Summons forms. These forms are available from the Civil Division of the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County (Clerk’s Office) in Room 601 in the Richard J. Daley Center, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60602.

Also, you will have to serve the Defendant either through the Sheriff’s Office or through Certified Mail. If you qualify to serve by Certified Mail (See Special Note below for qualifications), also obtain a Certified Mail form (See “How do I serve the Defendant” below for information on serving the Defendant).

You may download the Complaint and Summons forms from this website but must pick up the Certified Mail form from Room 601 in the Richard J. Daley Center. Complete the forms.

SPECIAL NOTE:  CERTIFIED MAIL

a)       If your claim exceeds $10,000, service may not be made by Certified Mail.

b)       You may not make service through Certified Mail to a Post Office Box -- Certified Mail must be directed to an actual address, not a P.O. Box.

Will I have to pay a filing fee and if so for what amount?

Yes, you will be required to pay a filing fee. The fee will vary depending on the amount of your claim. You may pick up a schedule of filing fees at the Customer Service Counter in the Civil Division in Room 601 in the Richard J. Daley Center, or may download the schedule from this website.

Will I have to pay for service by Certified Mail?

Yes, you will be required to pay the Clerk’s Office a nominal fee to serve by Certified Mail.  NOTE: Certified Mail fee is subject to charge by the U.S. Postal Service. You may only choose to serve by Certified Mail if your case is under $10,000.

What must I do after I have completed the Complaint, Summons and Certified Mail forms (if your claim is less than $10,000 and you choose to serve by Certified Mail)?

After you have completed the Complaint, Summons and Certified Mail forms (if you qualify to and serve by Certified Mail), get a Return Date from the blackboard in 601 or 602 of the Richard J. Daley Center. You will need to put a Return Date on both the Complaint and Summons forms. The Return Date is important because this is the date by which the party you are suing (the Defendant) must respond. 

Will I (the Plaintiff) need to come to Court on the Return Date?

No.  The Plaintiff does not need to come to court on the Return Date unless you are filing a Forcible Detainer (Eviction), Replevin, Detinue or Revival of Judgment case. The Return Date is only important for the Defendant – the person or party you are suing -- because the Defendant must respond to the lawsuit on or before the Return Date. Think of the Return Date as a “Response Date” by which the Defendant must respond to your lawsuit.

Note: The return date is an actual court date when filing the following types of lawsuits: Forcible Detainer (eviction), Replevin, Detinue or Revival of Judgment.

What must I do next after I get a Return Date?

Pay filing fee & get a case number.  Take your completed Complaint, Summons and Certified Mail  forms (if serving by Certified Mail) to the cashier at Station 3 in Room 602 of the Richard J. Daley Center to pay the proper filing and Certified Mail fees. You will then be assigned a case number (for example,  “04 M1 123456”).

NOTE:  If serving by Certified Mail leave the Complaint, Summons, and Certified Mail forms with the cashier. (You may only serve by Certified Mail if the case is under $10,000).

What must I do next after I pay the filing and/or Certified Mailing fee and get a case number?

After you have paid your filing fee and/or Certified Mail fee (if serving by Certified Mail) and have been issued a case number, you must serve the Defendant with a Complaint and Summons.  It is important that the Defendant is served with your lawsuit (a copy of the Complaint and Summons) within 30 days of the date you filed the lawsuit. Once the Defendant is served with your lawsuit, by law, he or she must file an answer or Appearance in Room 602 in the Richard J. Daley Center on or before the Return Date or “Response Day.”

How do I serve the Defendant?

You may serve the Defendant through the Sheriff’s Office or by Certified Mail through the Clerk’s Office.

Service by the Sheriff’s Office.  If you want the Sheriff’s Office to serve the Defendant then you must take one copy of the Complaint and Summons to the Sheriff’s Office in Room 701 in the Richard J. Daley Center. You will be required to pay a fee. You may determine the fee by visiting the Sheriff’s Office in Room 701 in the Richard J. Daley Center or by calling 312-603-4922.

Service by Certified Mail.  If you qualify for and wish the Clerk’s Office to serve the Defendant by Certified Mail and you have not completed a Certified Mail form, go to Room 601 in the Richard J. Daley Center for a Certified Mail form.

You qualify to serve by Certified Mail if your claim is under $10,000; however, you may only serve to an actual address NOT a P.O. Box

Complete the form and return it to Room 602 of the Richard J. Daley Center together with your Complaint and Summons; the Clerk’s Office will charge you a nominal fee for service by Certified Mail. 

How can I find out if the Defendant was served within the 30 days of my filing date? If you served through the Sheriff’s Office, you may learn if the Defendant was served by calling 312-603-4922. If you served by Certified Mail through the Clerk’s Office, you may find out if the Defendant was served by calling 312-603-5116.
What happens if the Defendant is not served within 30 days of filing? Note that a summons is valid for only 30 days. Consequently, if the defendant is not served within 30 days of filing, the first summons (or a previous summons) will then have expired. If this is the case, you must then complete, file and issue a second summons known as an Alias Summons. Thus, if the Defendant has not been served within 30 days of filing your lawsuit, you have two options: 1) First, you may complete an Alias Summons form and serve the Defendant through the Sheriff’s Office or; 2) you may complete an Alias Summons form and serve the Defendant by Certified Mail. You may get an Alias Summons form from the Clerk’s Office in Room 601 of the Richard J. Daley Center or you may download the form from this website.
What must I do after the Return Date?

If the Defendant was served within the 30 days of your filing date, you must get a court date two (2) days after the Return Date. To get this court date, call the Return Date counter of the Clerk’s Office at 312-603-5116 or 312-603-5145.

NOTE: The Clerk’s Office cannot help you complete any court forms. If you cannot complete your court forms, take them home and have family or friends help you complete them. Then return to Room 602 in the Richard J. Daley Center, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago, Illinois 60602 with the completed forms.

If you cannot complete the forms because of a disability, and there is no family member or friend to help you, then you may ask a manager about assistance in special circumstances for the disabled.

I received a Complaint and Summons. What do I have to do? Whenever anyone files a lawsuit against you, you are “summoned” to answer to the lawsuit on or before the Return Date as indicated on the Complaint and Summons. This means you must file with the court in Room 602 in the Richard J. Daley Center, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago, Illinois 60602 in the Civil Division, a document called an “Appearance.” By filing your Appearance, you are letting the court know that you are appearing to defend or respond to the lawsuit.
Do I have to use a special form to file an Appearance? Yes. You must complete and file an “Appearance” form.
How can I get an Appearance form? You may get an Appearance form in Room 602 in the Richard J. Daley Center, or you may download a copy of the Appearance form from this website.
Will I have to pay a court fee? Yes. You must pay an Appearance fee when you file your Appearance.
If I am the one being sued why do I have to pay a fee?

Any person who uses the court system, or who is brought into the court system through a lawsuit, must pay court fees. If you are the person being sued, you are the Defendant and must pay an “Appearance” fee to file your answer (defend your case).

The court system, like other state and federal government offices, sustains its operations through the collection of court fees.

Can the Clerk’s Office help me fill out my Appearance form?

No, regrettably we cannot help you complete your forms. If you cannot complete your court forms, take them home and have family or friends to help you complete these forms. Then return to Room 602 in the Richard J. Daley Center with the completed forms.

If you cannot complete the forms because of a disability, and there is no family member or friend to help you, then you may ask a manager about assistance in special circumstances for the disabled.

If the Complaint and Summons show that today is the Return Date, why don’t I have to be in court today?

The Return Date is NOT a Court Date unless your Appearance is for a Forcible Detainer (Eviction), Replevin, Detinue or Revival of Judgment case.  In all other cases, think of the Return Date as a “Response Date.”  That is, the person being sued – you, the Defendant – is required by law to respond to the lawsuit on or before the Return Date by filing an “Appearance” form.

Note:  If this is a Forcible Detainer (Eviction), Replevin, Detinue or Revival of Judgment case, the return date is your court date. If this is the case, you must file an appearance form and appear in court on the return date.

What if I don’t file an Appearance and pay the court fee by the Return Date? If you fail to respond to the lawsuit by filing an Appearance form on or before the Return Date, you risk being found liable by default (i.e. the Judge may require you to pay the amount in controversy and additional court costs). Once you are before the judge, you can explain the facts of your case.
If I don’t have a court hearing today, then why do I have to come back another time? Once you have responded to the lawsuit by filing your Appearance on or before the Return Date, you will get a court date at which time the judge will hear the case. At that time, both the Plaintiff and Defendant must appear before the Judge.
I don’t know the person who is suing me -- why am I being sued?

The person suing you is known as the Plaintiff. It is possible that the Plaintiff may have sued the wrong person. It is also possible that the case filed against you involves a dispute from your past and about which you have forgotten. For more information about the lawsuit, you should call the Plaintiff or his/her attorney.  NOTE: You must nonetheless file an “Appearance” by the Return Date or you risk being found liable by default (i.e. for not filing your Appearance). If this happens, you may incur additional court costs. Once you are before the judge, you can explain the facts of your case.

If, in fact, the Plaintiff sued you in error, you may ask the Judge (when you are in front of the Judge), for an order for the return of your Appearance fee or for an order requiring the Plaintiff to reimburse you for your Appearance fee.

What do I do once I have filed my Appearance and paid the fee by the Return Date? Whenever you file any type of court document, you must notify the other party. Therefore, since you are the Defendant, you must mail a copy of your Appearance to the Plaintiff (the person who sued you). If you fail to do so, the Plaintiff will not know that you are responding to the lawsuit and can ask a judge to find you in default for failure to respond.
If the suit is about a debt, and I pay or have already paid off the debt in question, do I still have to come to court? That is, do I still have to file an Appearance? This is a decision you must make. Even if you pay the claim sought against you, your credit rating may still be in jeopardy; therefore, the best course of action is to file your Appearance.
I will be out of town on my court date. Can you give me a later date? The Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court does not have authority to change court dates. These dates are set by the judicial system. If you cannot attend court you may send someone in your place on the scheduled date and time; your representative should ask the court for a continuance. The Court may or may not grant you a continuance. Or, you may call the Plaintiff’s attorney for a continuance. If the Plaintiff or his/her attorney agrees to a continuance, get the agreement in writing and send your representative to court with a copy of this agreement.
If the suit is about an insurance claim and the insurance company said it took care of the claim in question, why am I being sued? Contact your insurance company to verify that it filed an Appearance on your behalf. If you are unsure about this, you should file an Appearance on or before the Return Date. If you fail to do so you risk being found liable by default.
If this suit is about a claim that was included in a bankruptcy petition I filed, what should I do? Call the attorney that filed your bankruptcy petition to inform him or her that you are being sued. Then either you or your attorney should file an Appearance on your behalf. You will get a court date when you file your Appearance. Come to court on that date and bring your bankruptcy petition with you.
If this suit is about a bill I owe and I want to make arrangements to pay my bill on a monthly basis, what should I do? Contact the Plaintiff’s attorney to make payment arrangements, however, you must still file an Appearance and pay a fee. Get this payment arrangement in writing, as you will need to present it to the judge when you go to court

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