1. How Long Does a Civil Lawsuit Take in Minnesota Courts?
It may take a few months to over a year, depending on how complex the case is and the parties' willingness to consider settlement options.
2. What is a General Timeline for a Civil Lawsuit in Minnesota?
- Pre-lawsuit (1 week up to a few months): The parties investigate underlying facts, review relevant documents, get a legal opinion from their attorney, and try to negotiate a resolution. Simple cases may be resolved within a week, but more complex cases may take a few months.
- Pleading stage (1-2 months): One party starts the civil lawsuit with a Summons and Complaint, which usually takes the attorney a few days or a week to draft. A process server or sheriff deputy can generally serve the defendant within a few days, but it can take longer if the defendant avoids service. Once served, a defendant usually has 21 days to serve an Answer, any Counterclaim, or any Third-Party claims. If there are Counterclaims or claims against additional parties, then add another 20 days.
- Disclosure and Discovery (1-6 months): In simple cases where the parties want to move quickly, information could be informally exchanged in a matter of a few weeks, and they may choose not to take depositions. But in most cases, it takes a few months. The rules generally require Initial Disclosures within 60 days after the defendant's due date for the Answer. Initial Disclosures are generally required before discovery can begin. Actual discovery can take several months. A party usually starts discovery with written requests for interrogatories and documents, which must be answered within 30 days. After written discovery, a party may schedule depositions of parties or witnesses. There may be an additional round of written requests, which can take 30 days or more. If there are expert witnesses, they usually need full and accurate facts to give a final opinion, which might take a few weeks or a month.
- Motion Stage 1-3 months): Motions may or may not happen in your case. If there is no motion, the case will proceed to mediation or a trial. If there are summary judgment motions, it adds time to the case. Usually, a summary judgment motion is filed toward the end of discovery when the facts are known. The Rules usually require at least 28 days notice before a hearing. After a hearing, it may take a judge a few weeks to issue a written decision, or up to 90 days (the deadline before a judge can be disciplined).
- Pretrial Stage (~1 month): If there is no settlement or winning motion, the judge may order a one-day mediation. Otherwise, the case will move toward a trial. Usually, parties file any trial motions and requests a few weeks before the pretrial hearing (also called a settlement conference or trial management conference). The pretrial hearing is often a week or a few weeks before trial.
- Trial and Decision (1 day up to 3 months): Most civil cases require 1-3 days of trial time, but complex cases may require 1-2 weeks or more. With a civil jury trial, the jury often gives a verdict at the final day of trial or a few days after. With a judge or “bench” trial, the judge might take a few weeks or up to 90 days to issue a written decision. If there are any post-trial motions, add another 1-3 months.
- Appeal (6 months up to 1+ year): A civil lawsuit rarely reaches the appeal stage in Minnesota state courts. An appeal generally needs to be filed within 60 days after a decision, but it depends on the type of case and appeal. Once the appeal is properly filed, it may take 6 months or more to get a decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals. If there is an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, it could take another 6+ months. Note that there is no automatic review from the Minnesota Supreme Court in civil cases.
- Post-Judgment (1 month to many years): If a party gets a judgment at any stage during the case, he or she may try to collect upon the judgment. Sometimes, the judgment debtor simply pays up or comes up with an agreement to pay the judgment creditor. That does not take long. But if the debtor does not cooperate or has few assets, the judgment creditor may take years trying to collect. A judgment generally lasts 10 years in Minnesota, and can be renewed.
3. How Do I Speed Up the Civil Dispute or Lawsuit?
Consider doing these things:
- Be open to settlement and encourage the other party to do so.
- Investigate the issues right away, speak to witnesses, and organize your information.
- Get an attorney's opinion early in the case.
- Have a legal strategy and plan out possible negotiating positions.
- Try mediation.
- Respond to pleadings, motions, and discovery quickly.
- Agree with the other party to informally exchange all relevant information without the need for formal discovery.
- Consider stipulating to issues in order to narrow the scope of the trial.
- Keep a line of communication open throughout the case.
- Hire an efficient attorney that can move quickly.
4. What Things Cause a Civil Case to Take Longer?
Here are some things that extend or delay civil cases:
- One or both parties are unwilling to communicate.
- The parties are unwilling to consider settlement options.
- The attorneys are inefficient and do not push the case forward.
- The attorneys don't get along.
- There are many witnesses.
- There are multiple parties.
- There are lots of documents to review.
- The parties are not cooperative with their attorneys and do not organize their information.
- The law is unsettled or unclear.
- The judge's docket is busy and it takes a month or more to get a hearing.
- The court schedules trials in “blocks” and your trial gets “bumped” several months.
- There is an “interlocutory” appeal during the middle of your case.
- New attorneys or a new judge come into the case.
- A key witness changes his or her story.
- There is a related case that must be resolved first.
- There is a related bankruptcy or criminal matter.
- A party or attorney “stalls” whenever possible, fails respond in a timely manner, has a medical emergency, or generally fails to participate.
5. What Generally Happens with Civil Disputes that Just Started?
If a civil dispute happens, a few things generally occur before one party starts a lawsuit. Informally, the parties try to figure out what happened, what was supposed to happen, and how they can resolve the issue.
If there is no resolution, they may talk to attorneys to get legal advice. This may clarify the issues and lead to a settlement discussion. If you settle the dispute, the attorneys may draft a settlement and release.
If there is no resolution at that point, then the parties have to find a way to “move the needle.” A party may need to develop new facts, find new witnesses, get an expert opinion, have the attorney research a new theory, or simply wait to see if uncertainty or costs force one party to give up.
This process may only take a few days or a few weeks. After a few weeks with no movement, you might be “stuck” and need to start a lawsuit.
6. What Deadlines Does a Judge Set for a Civil Lawsuit in Minnesota?
A Scheduling Order for a civil lawsuit often includes deadlines for:
- Amending the pleadings
- Adding parties
- Making Initial disclosures under Rule 26.01
- Completing discovery
- Disclosing expert opinions
- Filing summary judgment or other "dispositive" motions
- Completing mediation
- Filing witness and exhibit lists
- Filing trial-related motions and jury instructions
You and the other party may be able to come up with scheduling stipulations and file them with the judge for approval. That may save you money and the need for a scheduling hearing. If you do that, the court will simply fill in hearing dates and sign the order.
If there is no agreement, the judge will hear arguments and set litigation deadlines. See Minnesota Rule of General Practice 111 for general scheduling guidance and Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 26 for discovery-related issues.
7. What Happens if a Party Fails to Follow Deadlines?
They may be sanctioned or lose their case. For example, if they fail to respond to pleadings or motions in timely manner, they may lose their right to defend the case. If they fail to participate in the discovery process, the judge can issue monetary sanctions, limit the evidence they can present at trial, or can deem the other party's evidence to be true.
If you or your attorney do not enforce the deadlines, you may have lost an opportunity to gain an advantage. The other party may get away with it. But at the very least, that party's credibility could be reduced in the eyes of the judge. In a close case, credibility can be everything, so be careful.
8. Can the Court Extend Deadlines?
Yes, extensions are frequently agreed to between the parties or granted by a judge. Extensions are not automatically given, but a good reason can be helpful. Usually, you check with the other party to see if they will agree to an extension. If not, you should ask the court before the deadline passes.
Under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 16.02, a judge's schedule "shall not be modified except by leave of court upon a showing of good cause.” General Rule of Practice 111.04 says that “[e]xcept in unusual circumstances, a motion to extend deadlines under a scheduling order shall be made before the expiration of the deadline.”
The lesson is to ask for the extension as soon as you think you need one.
9. Does the “Pocket Filing Rule” Affect Deadlines?
Not generally. After a party serves a Summons and Complaint to start a lawsuit, the party must file it in the proper court in Minnesota within one year unless the parties agree otherwise. If you don't file within that year, the “pocket filing rule” (Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 5.04(a)) automatically dismisses the case. The plaintiff will likely lose the case, unless he or she can successfully reinstate the case under Rule 60.02.
However, if a case is not yet filed in court, there is no Scheduling Order in place. The Civil Procedure rules generally require parties to have a Discovery Plan, but there is no true court order in effect. If parties cannot agree on a Discovery Plan or fail to follow it, they may file the case in court and have a judge issue a plan.
Note that for some cases, such as mechanic's liens, a case must be filed with a court within a year of when underlying facts took place. Some types of cases may have shorter deadlines. So you should be careful not to wait. If you have question, it's best to contact a litigation attorney.
10. Doesn't the Statute of Limitations Affect Court Deadlines?
No, it shouldn't. A statute of limitations is a deadline for the plaintiff to start a lawsuit, which is generally done by serving a Summons and Complaint. If the deadline passes and the plaintiff starts a lawsuit anyway, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the case.
If the defendant fails to ask for a dismissal, then the case tracks like any other case.