A summons is generally served with a Complaint and requires the party served to file an answer within a certain time period. A summons notifies the party that a complaint has been filed and contains basic information about a case like the names of the parties, the court where the complaint is filed and a time for providing a response. After service of the Complaint, the summons is sent to the court to confirm that the party being served knows about the lawsuit.
In other types of cases, you could be summoned to court to appear on a certain date for a hearing. This is another use for a summons and is often used in traffic cases or criminal matters where you are requested to appear in court on a certain date to enter a plea or to attend a hearing. Depending on the type of case, if someone does not appear in court when summoned to do so, they could be charged with “failure to appear” or a warrant could be issued for their arrest.
People sometimes confuse a subpoena and a summons. It’s not hard to see why. For example, the following statements could both be true:
“He was subpoenaed to appear in court next month.”
“He was summoned to appear in court next month.”
Both require the person served to take action. Neither should be ignored.