Many people associate the term appearance with how one looks or appears physically. Although it is true that elements of your physical appearance, including apparel and personal hygiene, may affect how a judge addresses you, the focus of this article will be on the term appearance as it is used in the legal arena.
In legal dictionaries, such as Black’s Law Dictionary, appearance is defined as “[a] coming into court as a party to a suit, either in person or by attorney, whether as plaintiff or defendant. The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits himself to the jurisdiction of the court. The voluntary submission to a court’s jurisdiction.” Jurisdiction refers to the court’s authority or power to hear a case and enter binding orders for or against a party.
A party typically appears in a case, with or without an attorney, by filing the party’s first pleading or paper. However, there are instances where an attorney will appear in a case on behalf of a party by filing a notice of appearance as counsel. Unless otherwise specified in the notice, it could be construed as a general appearance and give the court full jurisdiction over that party.
Is that in your best interests? If there is a problem with the way you were served with a lawsuit, you will need to challenge the court’s jurisdiction over you by filing the appropriate motion. If you need more time to respond to the lawsuit, you will need to file the appropriate motion requesting an extension of time.
Recent case law states that the motions referred to above do not constitute a general appearance or submission to the court’s jurisdiction, and therefore, do not result in a waiver of the right to challenge the court’s jurisdiction. However, the motion must be carefully drafted to avoid inadvertently addressing the merits of the case or seeking affirmative relief. Otherwise, it may be treated as a general appearance and a submission to the court’s jurisdiction. That may not be your intention.
An experienced attorney will likely accompany the motion with a notice of limited or special appearance. It is based on your consent and agreement with the attorney as to the scope of representation, and it is intended to make it perfectly clear that you are not making a general appearance or submitting to the court’s jurisdiction. It also bolsters any arguments you may have against the court or an opposing party claiming that you waived your right to challenge the court’s jurisdiction over you in the future.
Pierre G. Mina, Esq.
Pierre is an attorney in the firm’s litigation practice group and focuses his practice on litigated matters. For more information about this article, feel free to contact Pierre at (954) 507-7220.
This article is for information purposes only. It is not to be construed as legal advice or to take the pace of consultation with a lawyer of your choosing.